The horrors of the Nazi Holocaust shocked the conscience of the world. Hitler’s machinery of mass murder methodically led 12 million civilians to their death, and, upon his demise, sparked a revolution in international law and politics that forever changed the landscape of our global systems — even if actual implementation of the new norms remains lagging.
Today, on the Israeli holiday of Yom HaShoah, the world pauses to commemorate the six million Jews lost to the Nazi’s campaign of hatred. Events, small and large, are scheduled today and tomorrow throughout the world, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is holding a week-long “Days of Remembrance,” which this year honors the Allied soldiers who liberated the Nazi death camps at the end of World War II, and were among the first to uncover the sheer brutality of Nazi rule. As General Dwight D. Eisenhower remarked after a visit to Buchenwald:
“I want every American unit not actually in the front lines to see this place. We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least he will know what he is fighting against.”
Few events have had such a profound stamp on history as the Holocaust — much of the current system of international organization and politics can be traced back to the imperative of preventing another Hitler from ever rising to power again. Whether or not that has been successful is another story, but it behooves us to keep in mind why we have institutions such as the United Nations, laws against genocide and crimes against humanity, and concepts such as universal human rights and the Responsibility to Protect, especially as these ideas and institutions often get dragged through the mud by those seeking to deflect their own abuses.
We cannot yet say “Never Again,” but we can say “Never Forget.”
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