The history of the Holocaust is well-documented; between 1939 and 1945, Nazis and their sympathizers murdered an estimated eleven million people in their quest to fulfill Adolf Hitler’s dream of a more perfect world devoid of Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), homosexuals, people with intellectual or physical challenges, and beyond.
I have to admit that one of the things that really grinds my gears is when people talk about the Holocaust’s six million Jewish victims and completely dismiss Hitler’s other victims. The other five million victims, to be precise.
And I work in a Holocaust museum, so I hear and see it a lot.
It seems to me that by writing the five million victims out of history, we’re creating a cultural narrative that forgets the immense suffering and sacrifices experienced by nearly half of Nazi victims.
Let’s consider this image, for example, which was passed around the Internet widely both in January for International Holocaust Remembrance Day and also in April in commemoration of Yom HaShoah. Take a moment to reflect on the unfortunate fact that a moment of silent memory is likely the best we can do to honor those who died during the Holocaust. Now let’s do the math. Eleven and a half years consist of about 4,200 days, which total 11,809 hours and 6,048,540 minutes.
Six million minutes. Six million Jewish victims.
So what is the value of a human life? Of human suffering? Is every victim not worthy of a moment of memory?
We all know that no one is really going to be silent for eleven and a half years. The real moment of honor and of memory is the few seconds in which this image’s creator adds the number: If we held one minute of silence for each victim of the Holocaust… We would be silent for nearly twenty-one years.
Who do we forget when we no longer talk about the five million? Why is it important that we remember every victim of the Holocaust?
When we stop talking about the five million, five million loving mothers, caring fathers, energetic children, bright-eyed grandparents, inventors, doctors, craftspeople, farmers, loving, humorous, wise, fearless human beings cease to exist in memory. Some died because they were born to a particular race, sexual orientation, or disability. Some died because of their religion. Some died because they were conscientious objectors or upstanders.
What is an upstander? During the Holocaust, there were four main types of people: The perpetrators who enacted the genocide, the victims who suffered or died as a result of genocide, the bystanders who chose to do nothing to confront the oppression of the persecutors nor alleviate the suffering of the victims, and the upstanders who chose to take action to either confront the perpetrators or to aid the victims.
A key technique and goal of contemporary genocide education is teaching people, especially children, to be upstanders. To inspire future upstanders, we must teach about the inherent value of each human being and we must honor the upstanders who, as part of the five million, must not be lost to history.
The Jewish faith has a beautiful tradition that when someone passes away, the deceased is honored with the letters Z”L, meaning “may his/her memory be a blessing.”
Please join me in remembering each of the eleven million human beings who perished during the Holocaust.
May their memory be a blessing.
The Holocaust’s Forgotten Victims: The 5 Million Non-Jewish People Killed By The Nazis, by Louise Ridley
Research the Upstanders such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The extraordinary courage of Father Maximilian Kolbe
Learn about the systematic persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Learn about the Righteous Among the Nations
Most importantly, remember.