The challenge of our times

Earlier this week, the eyes of the world descended on Auschwitz, where survivors met to honour the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by the Soviet army.

The gathered survivors, frail and tired from old age, recounted stories of horror and reminded any who would listen that such a time should never be forgotten. Six millions Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis.

The Holocaust is emblematic of the darkness that descends when fanaticism takes root and warped ideals are achieved at the expense of others – in this case the extermination of the Jewish people.

Genocide continues in one form or another on many continents. Anti-semitism appears to be gaining traction again, as does the anti-immigration stance that pops up here and there in wealthier countries.

It is our fear that humans will never be free of malice like this.

Last fall, on a work trip to Berlin there was a chance to visit numerous historic sites in that city. It was very much a tour of happenstance, wandering side streets and coming upon various sites of interest.

Within a stone’s throw of the bunker where Hitler shot himself, is a monument called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Visiting there, walking amongst the 2,711 slabs of concrete spaced out in grid over the five-acre parcel, led to a sense of confusion as to its meaning. Upon reflection, that appeared to be the point – to cause an attendee to wonder – Why?

Were visitors jostling between the narrow paths and obstructions to cause them a sensation of feeling unsafe? Others walking the memorial would often criss-cross paths getting from one side to the other. After one or two instances of bumping into people, visitors became more cautious and unsure of themselves. Imagine having every ounce of confidence drained from one’s soul.

Although the memorial was a captivating experience, what stood out the most from that trip was the hundreds of markers placed throughout the city. Stolpersteine as they are called, literally stands for stumbling blocks. Along most sidewalks these markers are placed to note dwellings where persecuted groups including Jews, Roman, Sinti, homosexuals, people with disabilities and Jehovah’s witnesses were deported from. Those blocks offered points of reflection while walking in that city.

There was some irony in victims being remembered decades later, while the perpetrators slipped into obscurity.

But, as the survivors of the Holocaust will tell you, we need to remember the history completely.

Recognizing the transformation of hate into unfathomable ugliness remains the challenge of our times.