Thursday, January 27, 2005

Remembering Auschwitz

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post:

Today is the 60th anniversary of the last century’s most searing event, the liberation of Auschwitz. It was appropriately marked at the United Nations earlier in the week, but most people in most places took no heed, and even if they did, they may not have known what to make of it. I understand. The enormity of Auschwitz, let alone the Holocaust, is such that the human brain can scarcely contain it. Even to let Auschwitz in is to let God out.


Here is my fear. Because we cannot understand Auschwitz, because it is an immense bump in the road in our belief in a good God — “a just God,” the president said in his inaugural address — we will let it slip from memory, remembered maybe like some statue in the town square that memorializes something or other, maybe a war, maybe a man. Reminders will seem like nagging, and when the survivors are finally gone (they have been an incredibly hardy lot) so, too, will be the obligation to remember. Ah, what a relief!

Then, bit by bit, Auschwitz will fade, becoming something that happened in the last century to people who some may insist had it coming anyway — Jews and commies and Gypsies and homosexuals . . . mostly. For most people, it may become — it is already becoming — too dense a historic burden, a hideously heavy truth about who we can be, not just who we would like to be. Prince Harry just chucked it all. Someday, I fear, so shall we all and then — as it has in Rwanda and at Srebrenica — it will happen again.

And again.