As a history major, I’ve had a few people dismiss my area of study. People have told me that history is boring, or questioned why I chose it, their words betraying a “Who cares?” attitude. My favorites are the ones who just come right out and say it: “I hate history.”
There is one day coming up, however, that demonstrates the importance of history, and those who study it. Monday, April 24 — the 27th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar — is Yom HaShoah, known in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a holiday dedicated to remembering the lives and deaths of the six million people who were coldly and systematically murdered by the Nazi regime, simply because they happened to be Jewish. The date commemorates one of the Holocaust’s most famous instances of resistance, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when Jewish fighters attempted to stop the Nazis from deporting the ghetto’s remaining population to the Treblinka Extermination Camp.
There are, sadly, people who deny that these horrible events even happened — an opinion that flies in the face of an overwhelming amount of historical evidence – mountains of documents from the Nazi bureaucracy, containing grim numbers of those they imprisoned or killed, as well as the hundreds of thousands of survivors who bore witness to the awful truth over the years.
As time dwindles the now-elderly survivors’ numbers, it is important their stories are preserved and the historians who collect and study their testimonies recognize the vital nature of what they have to say.
Even the most impressive historical proof means nothing if people don’t remember it. Many who have heard the phrase “never again” don’t realize that it has happened again and again, that the Holocaust was not the first genocide, and by far not the last. In the last 100 years, there have been several of these crimes against humanity, all over the world, in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Sometimes this failure to remember has emboldened those who have gone on to commit atrocities themselves. Adolf Hitler once asked rhetorically, “Who remembers the Armenians?” — a group that had been the target of a genocide in what is now Turkey during World War I. Hitler believed that his “Final Solution” — the extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe — would be forgotten after just a couple of generations. The world cannot afford the consequences of proving him right.
The responsibility of those living in the present, then, is to be the heirs of those memories — to learn from history, to take the lessons that it has to teach us to heart and, in light of those lessons, to recognize that we cannot tolerate hate and the mistreatment of our fellow human beings that it breeds.
The study of history empowers society to prevent these types of injustices from happening, and to speak up against them when they do.
So whatever you think of history, whatever grade you made in the class, don’t dismiss it. The future needs the past.
UP staff writer