Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: It’s not easy to remember the pain of the Holocaust, but we must | Opinion

A man lights a candle during an International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in 2018 in Washington, D.C.
A man lights a candle during an International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in 2018 in Washington, D.C. Getty Images

During my years of service in Congress, I made three observations about Holocaust remembrance and remediation that I am sharing.

First, doing anything about the Holocaust — other than just talking — is difficult:

- The greater the horror, the greater the wrong.

- The greater the wrong, the greater the involvement of individuals, corporations and governments.

- The greater the involvement, the wider the guilt.

- And, the wider the guilt, the greater the desire to avoid adjustments in behavior and avoid remediation for past injustice.

Consider how the German government has failed to fulfill Chancellor Adenauer’s pledge in 1951 that Germany would take care of the needs of every survivor.

Although some in Germany have taken limited steps to fulfill this pledge, those actions have been inadequate. The German government has provided support through income-assistance programs and improved healthcare. But, the German Ministry of Finance has admitted that the level of care has been insufficient, especially for those who are in dire need of intensive, long-term care.

As we honor the victims of the Holocaust, we are compelled to do everything in our power to help those who have lived through those unconscionable atrocities. It is our moral obligation to help, to show them the best of humanity by ensuring that they can live out their days in dignity.

Widespread injustice involves widespread guilt that many are not willing to acknowledge. And widespread injustice involves widespread remediation costs that many are not willing to pay.

So if you want to be friends with everybody, take only cost-free actions or don’t want to change the world, you can’t really support Holocaust survivors.

Second, remembering — truly remembering — is difficult, distressing and psychologically traumatic because of what we must recall; and in the case of younger generations, what we must first learn, then believe, then remember.

It’s not just the numbers or gruesome facts. Instead, we must remember that the Holocaust was not a single anomaly in a single country, but the product of centuries of hate that did not end in 1945.

We must remember that the Holocaust was carried out by tens of thousands of so-called ordinary people, accepted as consistent with the rule of law and tolerated by an entire society.

We must remember, too, that the Holocaust against Jews could happen again. There are international figures whose goal is to make it happen again. Genocide against other ethnic minorities has happened again in our lifetimes.

Who wants to recognize these truths by opening their eyes to the reality of organized slaughter by tens of thousands of otherwise ordinary people? Who wants to recognize cruelty in a cruel world, when we are more comfortable believing, optimistically, in justice in a world that it, in reality, unjust?

Third, we must never overlook the human capacity for evil — whether committed intentionally or that committed by unthinking people.

Neither the detailed planning of the 1942 Wannsee Conference to structure the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” nor the routine implementation by tens of thousands everyday people can be grasped without embracing the potential for evil in the human heart.

“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn cautions in his “Gulag Archipelago.”

In “Heart of Darkness,” Joseph Conrad warns that, “The mind of man is capable of anything — because everything is in it. …”

We have a duty to sound the trumpet of Holocaust remembrance in the struggle between good and evil, for, “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?”

Each of us must respond with a strong voice against the forces of denial and forgetfulness and incomprehension. Each of us must respond as in Isaiah: And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then said I, “Here am I. Send me.”

Let each of us be that voice: “Send me — send me.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spent almost 30 years in Congress representing South Florida. This is the first of her monthly columns for the Herald. Send her your comments at HeraldIleana@gmail.com.