May 8, 2005

60th Anniversary of the End of World War II

1945 – May 8th – 2005

Why should the Holocaust continue to be the subject of further studies?

According to the Dictionary of the Royal Academy, the word holocaust means ”a huge slaughter of human beings”. Another entry reads: ”Among the Israelites, especially, it implied that the victims were burnt up”.

Etymologically, the word holocaust derives from the Latin holocaustum, and from the Greek holokaustos, which literally means ”completely burnt up by fire”. Nowadays, it is almost exclusively associated with large-scale catastrophes and massacres, more precisely with genocide. That is, the genocide of the Jewish people carried out by the Nazi regime before and during the Second World War.

The Holocaust was premeditated, efficient, widespread and, above all, one of the most cruel killings known so far in History. Its victims were mainly Jews, but also other groups were annihilated by the genocidal fury: gypsies, homosexuals, psychiatric patients, crippled persons, political activists, union workers, common lawbreakers and also Christians.

The number of deaths brought about by the Nazis worldwide reaches unimaginable proportions, to the extent that recent researches show that the overall figures would be even higher than what has so far been known: around 26 million victims.

The cases of torture, mistreatment and slayings that became public knowledge thanks to eyewitnesses, file records and survivors, serve as tokens of human savagery, barbarism and decadence.

For some (or many) of the readers these data might be of perhaps little interest or non-significant, due to the time elapsed and the never-ending reference to these horrendous facts by thinkers and theoreticians of the second half of the century.

However, why would it be advisable that the Holocaust continues to be the subject of studies by sociologists, historians, communicators and the public in general?

On April 30th this year, the La Nación Buenos Aires daily published an article dealing with a recent study carried out by the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen Institute of Germany, which points out that the lack of deep research into the meaning of this tragic historical process is already showing its consequences on modern societies.

The study referred to above, clearly shows that half the young population of Germany does not know what the Holocaust is.

Even though 80 per cent of the population has some knowledge on this subject, when persons under 24 years were surveyed, only 51.4 per cent could answer the question, despite the fact that ”the simple mention of the annihilation camp of Auschwitz, or the slaying of Jews” could have been accepted as correct answers.

This survey, whose results are being released to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, forces us to resume the study of these events and even analyze them with a magnifying glass.

Furthermore, this whole matter brings to our mind the regrettable behavior of Prince Harry of England, who attended a party disguised with a costume bearing the Nazi swastika. Even though the Prince apologized, this is an occurrence that should not be overlooked when talking about education and culture.

The approach suggested by these facts must necessarily invoke further studies to analyze and discuss them in depth with the aim of spreading information related to the scope of the phenomenon of the Holocaust. No matter how dark or incomprehensible it might seem, it should never cease to be the subject of deep and critical analysis to learn who we were, who we are and where are we going.

Otherwise, in a few years we shall be taken aback by a second Holocaust: the victims will then be our History and our Heritage. It will be a cultural Holocaust.

Victoria Bembibre is a volunteer of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.

Translation: Josefina Prytyka