Jeffrey here. Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Joey is silent.
Memories last only as long as the people who remember. When the people who know us are gone, we – our actual selves – are utterly forgotten.
A name may endure. But by itself, a name means nothing. Remembering the words “Abraham Lincoln” is not remembering Mr. Lincoln. We can’t remember someone we never met.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, public recitations of victims’ names personalize the “statistic” of 11 million civilians (half of them Jews) murdered by the Nazis. This helps us begin to grasp the scope of the crime. But the actual names don’t matter. Names aren’t a memorial because they don’t tell us anything meaningful. Like “Abe Lincoln”, they’re just labels for people we never met.
While names don’t matter, stories do matter. Knowing a person’s story (no matter the name) or a country’s history teaches a lesson. Lessons can change our behavior. Behavior affects the living. The living, not the dead, are our concern.
Here are some stories: Germany, a country of culture and science, turned its achievements into tools for 1940s mass murder. Other countries of rich culture, before, during and since the 1940s, engaged in mass murder, experienced by their victims with as much horror as suffered by Germany’s victims. Our own country, welcoming to many, sometimes has ignored or incited oppression and murder and sometimes turns its back on those fleeing persecution. (Before you cry foul, ask Americans of, say, Cherokee, African, and Japanese descent. Ask innocent refugees who escape foreign jails only to be imprisoned in the U.S. Ask descendants of the St. Louis passengers. And don’t forget that while the world’s remorse at its indifference to the Holocaust pushed the international community in 1951 to recognize a duty to protect refugees, the U.S. did not pass its Refugee Act until 1980 – 29 years later!)
Let’s not make a fetish of names. Instead, let’s learn from stories to avoid the crime of indifference. If we can’t police the world (and maybe we shouldn’t), let’s learn to offer prompt and generous refuge to desperate people who manage to knock on our door.
I now yield the floor to Joey, who will return soon with more on our Ride to Nashville.