Yom HaShoah reminds us that the Holocaust must never be forgotten and that we must remain vigilant against all forms of prejudice and hatred to ensure that such unspeakable acts of inhumanity never happen again.
- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 27 April 2014
Earlier this month I was in Weimar, Germany to commemorate the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp, one of the places where the Holocaust took place.
It was an occasion both somber and celebratory as survivors remembered lost friends, but also marked their own survival. They've lasted a lot longer than the Third Reich did.
As part of the commemorative weekend, the IKBD - the international association of Buchenwald survivors (like my grandfather) and family members (like myself) held our AGM to discuss the next year's activity, but also the alarming rise in Europe of ethnic intolerance in general but antisemitism in particular.
Bertrand Hertz, IKBD President and survivor, said that it's no longer enough to say "never again", because it's increasingly clear we are indeed heading down that same, dark path.
The question was posed - what can we do to ensure the lessons from the Buchenwald story are remembered, but also applied here and now? The question was largely directed at decedents like myself.
Buchenwald survivors have spent 70 years raising their voices; they have done there part. It's time for others to pick up that mantle. But where to begin?
Bertrand, who accompanied US President Barack Obama during his visit to Buchenwald, said pointedly that today's politics is part of the problem. At all levels, polarization is extreme and hate is once again becoming a valid tool for political mobilization. Populism, simplistic messaging and austerity measures that target those with the weakest voices are increasingly common.
It's just good business.
When I spoke, I focused on the concept of dehumanization; the only way one human being can justify the ill-treatment of another is by reducing them to lesser form of life. What do we refer to people we don't like as? Vermin, pigs, wolves, sharks - animals.
The angrier we get, the more fearful we become, the easier it becomes to dehumanize others. It's basic behavioural economics. That, after all, was what the Camps were designed to do - reduce inefficiencies due to the human element by dehumanizing The Other.
The Concentration Camps were prison camps - to the Nazis, inmates were law-breakers. As such, they had a penance to pay, but also had to earn their keep through hard labour. The Nazis figured out that if you lumped all your undesirables together, turned them against each other and worked them to death, you were killing several birds with one stone.
That, I said, is how the pattern works - fear, anger, economize, dehumanize. Laissez-faire is indifference.
The way to break this cycle, I suggested, was to humanize groups to each other. Communication, information sharing and project-based partnerships that establish common goals and personalized relationships matter.
Like the Open Data/Open Government movement, I said, we need to be catalysts of community. We need to find ways to bring people together at a time when the powers that be are trying to drive them apart.
We must be the opposite of indifference, I suggested. And where others are content to focus on symptoms - throw one criminal in jail, shout down one racist - we have to think big. It's not enough to throw starfish back in the ocean; we have to stop the rising tide of indifference and intolerance that threatens to consume us whole.
Vigilance, too, the opposite of indifference.
How can such a thing be accomplished? How might we build a community in defiance of inhumanity?
It's not a question one person can answer. But it is a riddle we can solve together.