Recalling the Greatest Evil in Recorded History

Today we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The United Nations established this day to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  It is estimated that the Nazi SS and police deported at least 1.3 million people to the Auschwitz camp complex between 1940 and 1945.  Of these people, approximately 1.1 million people were murdered including, 1,095,000 Jews, 74,000 non-Jewish Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and 10,000 to 15,000 people of other nationalities and ethnicities.

Today, we must not only remember the six million Jews and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust, but we must appreciate that xenophobia, including, in particular, antisemitism,  is once again surging.

As of 2020, the Jewish population of the United States was estimated to be 7.6 million, or 2.4% of the total.  This includes both adults who identify their religion as Jewish, those who do not identify with any religion, and their children.  According to data on hate crimes collected by the FBI, crime targeting Jews consistently constitute more than 50% of all religion-based crimes.  Since the FBI began collecting this data in 1990, the number of reported and documented hate crimes against Jews has ranged from 600 to 1,200 each year.  If you want to see more granular data and specific details of antisemitic harassment, vandalism, and assaults in the United States, see the annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in the United States published each year since 1979.  Link:  Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2020 (adl.org)

Fortunately, there are resources available to help us, our children, and our grandchildren better understand the events that led to the Holocaust and its impact and aftermath.  These include the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Link:   United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (ushmm.org), the Holocaust Explained feature of the Wiener Holocaust Library  Link:    Memorials – The Holocaust Explained: Designed for schools  and the educational resources developed by Facing History and Ourselves Link:  Search by Topics | Facing History and Ourselves

Each year, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in Poland publishes a report on the educational activities it has sponsored throughout the year in an effort to ensure that the world never forgets the singular horror of the Holocaust.  You may find the entire report here.  Link:  auschwitz_raport_2021.pdf  The report includes a message written by Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywinski, the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial.  It reads in part as follows:

“Warning is the child of wisdom. And this warning arises from memory.

Never before were people as powerful and skillful as they are today.

Yet we all care more about our own convenience in our world than for creating a better world for the children and the entire future.

The future is not what will come someday, later, on its own! It is already

here, already alive and developing in our intentions, in our choices and in

our indifference”

These are harsh words.  No one wants to be called “indifferent.” Yet, if we don’t stand up and speak out each time we hear a hateful remark directed at another person or observe the commission of a malicious act, what else should it be called but indifference.

On December 3, 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King addressed the Fourth Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change at the Bethel Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.   He spoke as the outgoing President of the Montgomery Improvement Association.  Dr. King was moving to Atlanta and the next phase of his life as a religious and civil rights leader.  He spoke about the ongoing struggle against segregation and for freedom.  At one point in his address, he directed his remarks to the white community.

“There are in the white South millions of people of goodwill whose voices are yet unheard, whose courage is yet unclear, and whose courageous acts are yet unseen. These people are often silent today because of fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. . . .If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

On this day, when we remember the most profound evil history has recorded, the words spoken by Dr. King more than fifty years ago are more timely than ever before.  We are still in a period of social transition.  People are still struggling to be free.  And people of goodwill must stand up and speak out. As Elie Wiesel, himself a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp complex, wrote, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Hon. Peter W. Agnes, Jr. (ret.)
CEO, Flaschner Judicial Institute


In Memoriam

We cannot let this day pass without remembering Honorable Gregory C. Flynn, who passed away last night.  For twenty-seven years, he served as the First Justice of the Waltham District Court.  Under three Chief Justices of the District Court, Judge Flynn mentored several generations of new judges who were assigned to sit with him during the earliest days of their careers and who continued to consult with him throughout their careers.  Greg Flynn was a model for how to administer justice in a community court.  Over his twenty-eight-year career as a judge, Greg Flynn was also a devoted consumer of Flaschner Judicial Institute programs and unfailingly supported Flaschner’s efforts to develop and implement educational programs for the judiciary.  All of us at Flaschner express our deepest sympathies to all the members of Judge Flynn’s family.  May his name be a blessing.

Leave a Comment