I have just finished reading Night by Elie Wiesel. It is a chilling, first-hand account of the concentration camps during the Holocaust. This is my response.
It is unfathomable to me, as it was to Wiesel, that the horror of the Holocaust was allowed to happen in such a modern age. There is still a generation of people alive today who were alive during World War Two. To those people, I ask the question “What did you do to help the Jews?” Some may answer that they were fully involved in the fight. Some may answer that there was nothing they could do. Some may answer that they didn’t know anything about the annihilation of six million Jews until the war was over.
For those who fought, I applaud and weep with gratitude to the very core of my being. For those who claim helplessness, I mourn. There is always something that can be done: support for those on the front lines, solicitation and donation of monetary aid, perpetuation of awareness. Helplessness is a self-placating lie for those who choose to turn their heads away. In response to those who claim ignorance, I must recognize the validity of such an argument for the individual, but censure a society that allows such an excuse to exist.
Wiesel’s words are a powerful reminder to prevent history from repeating itself. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, he stated:
…the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
Today we face another unspeakable horror. This time there is no specific oppressor, no Nazi regime. Most of the victims have not been intentionally targeted, and they have no one to blame except a silent, eyes-averted world. The sheer number of victims cannot be accurately counted, nor can our minds conceive of such a crowd, already multiplied several times over by the number of Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis. Today we face an AIDS pandemic that is threatening to wipe out an entire continent.
We must not deny the severity of the situation. We must not ignore the helpless millions who are facing death. It is time for individual action on a universal scale.
There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. One person…of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.
As the realization of the AIDS horror dawns anew on each generation, they will look to us, their parents and grandparents, and ask what we did to help those victims. Today I choose what my answer will be: “I fought. I did not sit idly by. I made my voice heard and I refused to be quieted. I begged shamelessly for more people to get involved. I went to the front lines. And I fought.”