While I was in college, I was required to study abroad for both of my majors. I spent three semesters in Europe--first France (a lifetime dream come true), then I moved onto England and finally, Austria. I was writing a thesis paper on the European Union and it's future role in European affairs, as well as it's expansion into Eastern and Southern European countries. It was the early, mid-1990's. The Iron Curtain was still a recent memory and travel to the eastern reaches of the continent a novel experience.
As a child of the 70's, I could not believe that it was even possible to travel beyond that forbidding boundary. I had always wanted to visit the Eastern Block, but was discouraged in that desire as it being "un-American." Though we all prayed the wall would fall, and I listened intently as Ronald Reagan and Pope St John Paul II pleaded for the end of Communism, it seemed a forever impossibility. Then it happened.
It was powerful to see the transformations, walk on former Communist soil. To meet the people who had been conquered and reconquered and were finally reclaiming their national identity. However, another blight on history hung heavy on my heart, and I knew I had to face it head on. I had watched the documentaries, read so many books, wept at the thought of such cruelty--but I needed to actually experience where the Holocaust occured.
In my time in Austria, I visited a concentration camp and walked through the fiery crematories and stepped into the gas shower houses. After decades of time had passed, the weight of the horrors that were perpetrated there still wrapped around my heart and weighed down my shoulders. My soul wept when my heart could not process the emotions. The stench of those poor souls whose lives were brutally cut short, still hung in the air. This was a horror beyond what I even could have imagined, and we were told by our guide that this was not even the most brutal of the camps, dwarfed in infamy by the likes of Auschwitz an Buchenwald.
What struck me most was the iconic Germanic village that lay at the foot of the Alps, like a picture postcard or a scene from The Sound of Music. It was lush with dark green grass and overflowing flower boxes, tidy streets with towering stone houses. A dreamlike landscape--yet just yards away a nightmare beyond comprehension persisted for years. The dichotomy was startling. From the edge of town the crematory stacks and barbed wire fences were plainly seen, the town likewise glinted through the cracks in the fortress-like fence of the Nazi prison.
How did it happen? How did it persist? Could they not see and hear and taste and smell the atrocities? Did they stay silent out of fear? Relief? Prejudice? Coersion? How did mothers cradle their babies and comfort their child who awoke from a nightmare--with that evil lurking in their backyard? How did businesses just carry on as usual? Schools and Churches teach the young right and wrong as the adults ignored one of the greatest wrongs of history? Did the children ask questions? What answers did they receive?
So many questions. I reminded myself that those outside the wall were still under the shadow of the blood-thristy regime. There were most like those who spoke out and were punished, those who wept in private but feared for their families, those who knew it was wrong but were held prisoner by the SS in plain sight--their bodies free to live outside the walls, but their actions, opinions, and ideals held captive. Through wrestling with the reality of life in the Nazi regime and World War II era, I am proud of the nations that banded together for freedom, who stood up for those who were held down, cried out for those unable to speak. I remembered how my great-uncle and his friends fought for the end of tyranny and fascism, and know that despite the call for service and duty, the Americans back at home had little idea of the atrocities occuring throughout Europe. Even what they knew did not do justice to what greeted the liberating forces. The publishing of those ghastly photos of piles of discarded bodies, standing skeletons that were more dead than alive, shook the world to it's core. The entire free world raised their voices in a battle cry of, "NEVER AGAIN!"
Never again who a race of people be brutally exterminated because of their ethnicity or religion. Never again would children be preyed upon and tortured to purify a race. Never again would we allow any individual, nation, nor group to sweep terror over a land and run rampant with evil and darkness left unchecked until the millions of corpses confess the heineous crimes. NEVER AGAIN!!!
But, where are we now? Where is the outcry? ISIS has systematically been killing women, children, elderly, and young men. They have chased thousands from their homes often leaving mothers with the choice of which children are capable of running and which must be left behind--left behind to suffer an unimaginable fate, but that mother must save the children she can. They have tortured and kidnapped, raped and mamed. Havoc has spread across the middle east and creeps steadily to widen its borders with promises to conquer the whole world. What happened to never again?
Recently, a Sharia court ruled that ISIS may kill any child with Down Syndrome or other chromosonal abnormalities. This may not phase American since we systematically do the same in the womb to our children, but for a moment stop and think of what this court declared. It gave the right to murder infants and children simply because they weren't perfect enough for ISIS to deem worthy to live. The Nazis also exterminated their handicapped population. The human rights groups and compassionate citizens of the world decried these atrocities as inhumane. What happened to never again?
This is not someone else's problem. This is not a group that will go away. They are bent on world wide domination and destruction, they will stop at nothing else. How can we criticize handing over the Sudetenland, when we hand the entire Cradle of Civilization to these barabrians on a plate?
My grandparents' generation can say they didn't know. What will we tell our grandchildren when this era reaches the history books? We didn't care?