Intolerance. Injustice. Ignorance. Indifference. A speaker at Sunday’s Yom Ha’Shoah Holocaust Commemoration described the role these “i” words played in the global response to the systematic murders of six million Jews in dozens of European concentration camps by Adolph Hitler and his Nazi conspirators. The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (JCCNV) was filled with Holocaust survivors and family members, as well as elected officials and the general public, who read aloud the names of Holocaust victims, lit memorial candles, and vowed “Never Again!”
I’ve attended many Holocaust memorial services, and attendance seems to grow every year, not just remembering the slaughter of Jews, but more recent atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Cambodia, and Rwanda. Where will it happen next? Many Holocaust survivors and their families came to the United States, seeking freedom, shelter, peace, and the restoration of family life. Irene Fogel Weiss, who was barely 13 when her family was torn apart, remained silent about her experiences for a quarter of a century, not even telling her children why they had no grandparents, no uncles, no cousins. Now a gracious 89 years old, Mrs. Weiss tells her story as a volunteer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, silent no longer.
The stories, the prayers, the music, and the interpretive dance, softened the edges of the remembered trauma perhaps, but those “i” words hung over all. The news headlines are filled with examples of intolerance and injustice. Whether from the White House, the southern border, inner cities, or small towns doesn’t seem to matter. It’s antithetical to the foundation of this nation, and to our shared values. Ignorance can be mitigated by education and understanding, but it is indifference that is the challenge, and the responsibility of every one of us to remedy. Intolerance and injustice thrive in an indifferent world, and that needs to change – now. The German theologian, Martin Niemoller, famously outlined indifference: First they came for the socialists, but I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist. They came for the trade unionists, but I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. They came for the Jews, but I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me. We all are part of the human family, and must speak out – loudly and clearly – against intolerance and injustice. Never again!
Coincidentally, today is the 25th Commemoration of Vietnam Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of House and Senate Joint Resolution SJ 168, which designated May 11, 1994, as Vietnam Human Rights Day. President Bill Clinton signed it into Public Law 103-258 later that month, and it has been observed as a bi-partisan event ever since. Many of our Vietnamese-American neighbors in Northern Virginia were imprisoned by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and, like Holocaust survivors decades before, fled to the United States seeking peace, freedom, and human rights. Injustice knows no boundaries, but courageous voices can, and do, make a difference.