A few years ago, my father-in-law, David, stood on a corner in the small Ukrainian village of Tuchin and pointed to the spot where he last saw his mother, Chaya, his sister, Rachel, and her three small children in November 1941. The Nazis had invaded the Ukraine in June and by November it was clear that they were advancing on Tuchin.
Chaya sent David off by foot to outrun the Nazis; as bad luck would have it, her daughters' children were suffering from the measles and had high fevers. The plan was for Chaya, Rachel and the children to join David on the eastward trek a few days later. Chaya waved goodbye to David, knowing that they would only be separated for a few days.
Within hours of David's departure, the Nazis invaded. David's family was rounded up with the rest of the Jews in the village and led to a nearby field. A Partisan witness told us later the extent of the horror: the village’s children were thrown into the massive grave alive so as not to waste bullets; the adults were lined up in front of the pit where their children cried and screamed, and were shot in the back. Every Jew remaining in Tuchin in November of 1941 was murdered.
There is almost no American alive today who is unfamiliar with the Holocaust. For the past several decades, educating Americans of all faiths and backgrounds about the Holocaust has been a priority. There are thousands of Holocaust related films, countless books, art exhibitions, institutes, and more—all dedicated to educating Americans to the Holocaust and the evils of bigotry and hate.
Yet it seems that there has been inadequate focus on what may be the most important take-away from this dark period in human history—the lack of outcry by the Allied Forces in general and by Americans in particular. By late 1941, the Allied Forces, including the United States, were well aware of Hitler's planned "final solution" to make Europe "Judenrein" (free of Jews). The extermination plans should not have caught any government off guard since 1933 laws targeting, isolating and dehumanizing Jews were passed almost immediately. These moves by the Third Reich were all made in public with the full knowledge of the entire world.
Since the Holocaust, the adage "Never Again" is frequently invoked. However, genocide scholars inform us that there have been 46 genocides since the Holocaust. Save for pockets of activism, the world remains silent.
Nowhere is international—and American—complacency more tragically evident than in Sudan. As you read this, millions have been displaced and an estimated 400,000 have been murdered in Darfur by the genocidal Khartoum regime. Another genocide has begun in the very same country by the very same regime, threatening another 400,000 lives in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
We cannot justify our complacency by claiming we are unaware of these crimes. Dozens of Members of Congress along with our own President have visited Darfur and met with genocide survivors.
I have also met survivors, women like Zanuba who told me about her village being torched by the Janjaweed militias—the same men who also killed her husband and raped her young daughters before her eyes.
I shared my story with Zanuba, telling her about my own family members who had survived the horrors of Nazi Germany. We cried together for our losses, for our pain, and for the millions of others in Darfur, Poland, and beyond who died as the world sat silent.
As written by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, "The opposite of love is not hate...it's indifference...The opposite of life is not death...it's indifference."
Our greatest weapon against the scourge of genocide is our capacity for caring. If we learn nothing else from the Holocaust, we must learn that silence in the face of such evil condemns the victims to certain death. Now is our time to overpower indifference through compassion, advocacy and activism.
Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch, an organization dedicated to fighting genocide and mass atrocities. For more information on how you can take action to stop these atrocities, click here to visit Jewish World Watch.