History seems an ineffective teacher

We act as if hate and discrimination are his-tory, though events sadly suggest otherwise.

Freezing temperatures and falling snow provided a fitting backdrop for Thursday’s ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As Holocaust survivors and the leaders of more than 40 nations bundled up for the three-hour affair, those conditions were a visceral reminder of the brutality that once characterized the now ghostly site.

This year, the lesson of Auschwitz, echoed by speaker after speaker Thursday, will resonate more sharply than usual. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of several Nazi death camps, as well as the end of World War II and a genocide that killed more than 6 million Jews. That lesson, encapsulated in the haunting phrase “Never again,” deserves review.

Auschwitz was only the first of many camps liberated in 1945: Buchenwald fell on April 11, when prisoners overthrew their SS guards even before U.S. troops arrived; Bergen-Belsen on April 15, when British troops were stunned to find approximately 60,000 prisoners in critical condition, 14,000 of whom died during the next several days; and Dachau on April 29, when U.S. troops freed more than 27,000 survivors.

The brutality of those places, captured in photographs and eyewitness accounts, shocked the world into admitting it had stood idly by while genocide unfolded. Even today, those pictures seem more surreal than real. Search the Internet and you’ll quickly find snapshots of emaciated survivors, their expressions blank and uncomprehending.

The truth is, we’re reminded often of the grisly horror that was the Holocaust. Beyond the photographs and ceremonies, museums and camps themselves are easily found. Dachau, just outside Munich, Germany, is often swarming with German children – every German schoolchild is required to visit a camp at least once. In Washington, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has hosted more than 21 million visitors since its inception in 1993.

Reminders of the Holocaust can be found in recent history as well: Cambodia, Kurdistan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur. Europe is gradually awakening to the reality that anti-Semitism remains alive and well in the 21st century. Closer to home, swastikas and Nazi propaganda found ugly expression on campus in the fall.

These events, just as the Auschwitz ceremony, are chilling reminders that genocide and the hatred that fuels it remain with us even today. Combating that hatred is a work far from over.