Annual Holocaust Remembrance Essay Contest
2nd place: Will McEntee
School: East Chapel Hill High School
In the early 1940s, 6 million Jews were wiped off the face of the earth. Adolf Hitler had tried to impose what was called the “final solution,” which was the systematic extermination of all the Jews in Europe. He accomplished this by forcing Jews out of their homes and sending them to concentration and extermination camps. In these camps they were separated from their families, and depending on their physical condition, they were either forced to work or killed. This is arguably the most evil thing that has ever been done in history. Because this is a very sensitive topic for many people, it is debated whether or not we should study this part of our history in schools and elsewhere. It is important to be educated on the Holocaust, however, because many of the themes that allowed this horrific event to occur, such as racial, religious, and gender-based discrimination, and normal people doing bad things that become socially acceptable, are still in existence today, and failure to understand this opens the door for another event like the Holocaust to happen again.
Racial and religious tension is particularly apparent today in the Middle East in many countries, including Lebanon, and in Darfur. In Lebanon, the racism is not taken as far as killing, as it is in Darfur, but it is shown more socially. Journalist Mona Alami makes the point that people in Lebanon can be turned away from restaurants or clubs for not fitting a certain “look,” or skin color. This closely parallels what Germans believed in the late 1930s/early 1940s: that people with pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes were superior to everyone else. Alami also states that, “Lebanon does not have anti-discrimination laws.” While this point certainly does not make the Lebanese government like the Nazis, there is still something to be said about the fact that blatant racism is allowed. The government is not a catalyst for racism, but it is allowing this behavior to continue unpunished. Darfur, on the other hand, exemplifies racism taken to an entirely new level. Darfur is a place in the Sudan where Arabs are driving out thousands of non-Arabs (Mamdani). This is racial persecution at its most basic. There is one racial group of people driving out a different racial group of people, exactly as in Europe 70 years ago. The government in Darfur is actually a catalyst for racial persecution. Arab raiders are driving the black Africans out of Darfur, and the government not only supports the raiders, but refuses to let peacekeepers in (Connoly). This is an incredibly strong parallel to what occurred in Germany during World War II. The only difference between this and the Nazi party is that it is private citizens, and not the government in Sudan that is the aggressor.
In addition to racism, another theme that led up to the Holocaust that is still present today is that of normal and not necessarily bad people doing bad things because of the social environment in their country. During the Holocaust, many of the people who oppressed the Jews were normal German citizens who were under the control of Hitler’s Nazi party. In the Middle East, specifically in Afghanistan, there is a huge movement for Jihad, which is the term used for the holy war of Muslims versus non-Muslims. They have no limits as to whom they recruit to be in their makeshift armies. Hafiz Hanif, a 16 year old Al-Qaeda recruit, was interviewed in Newsweek: “’The aim of my life has always been to be a Shahid,’ he says—a martyr. ‘I want to attack infidels who insult Muslim women, who occupy Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan’” (Yousafzai). While Hanif clearly is not an average case, there is without a doubt an element of normality to him that makes this noteworthy. He is a 16-year-old boy who has lived with his parents his entire life, but the state of things in Afghanistan is such that a 16-year-old boy can join a terrorist group. This makes Hanif’s story rather similar to the influence the Nazi party had during World War II, where many of the oppressors were common people. As with the Nazis, normal people under Al-Qaeda seem brainwashed. For example, Hanif “appears blissfully oblivious to the brutality and cruelty of the jihadis: the ruthless murders of suspected spies, the acid attacks on girls, the reign of terror in areas they control” (Yousafzai). Similarly, in Nazi-controlled Germany, the people acting as part of the Nazi party persecuting the Jews were not necessarily aware of the extent of the horror they were facilitating. In the case of Hanif, he thought that what he was doing was fighting for his religion—and, yes, killing—but what he seems more oblivious to is what else Al Qaeda does that is not included in this sense of “holy war.”
There are many other frightening parallels between the Arabs in Darfur, Al-Qaeda, and the Nazi party. One characteristic of all three is that they have all become powerful in a time of chaos. Germany was in a terrible state after World War I, and Afghanistan, many other Middle Eastern countries, and the Sudan are all incredibly poor countries with weak governing bodies that allow oppressive groups, and sometimes encourage them, to operate. When there is a lack of central control in a country, it is significantly easier for corruption and crime to surface because there is nothing to stop it. Another more obvious connection is that the Nazis, the Arabs in Darfur, and Al-Qaeda all had religious motives in their mass killings. Religion, regardless of any perverse interpretation people have given it, lends groups an incredibly strong motive to participate in these kinds of oppressive behaviors because they believe what they are doing is for a greater cause.
In conclusion, it is important to remember and study the Holocaust because many things that allowed the Holocaust to happen, including racism, still occur today, and we cannot risk allowing history to repeat itself. The last time there was a perfect storm of all of these themes in one country 6 million people were murdered. Given that the Holocaust is widely accepted as one of the worst things, and maybe the single worst thing to happen in history, it would be foolish to forget, ignore, or minimize it, and allow something like that to happen again.