History of silence amid the terror

To the editor:

Mark Wisan recently wrote of celebrating the victims of Kristallnacht and mourning that the tragic events occurred. He rightly observed that millions of people did nothing in response. He was wrong when he said that that was unique. Many, many large-scale human tragedies have played out around the globe with little comment from the international community.

Stalin deliberately starved 3 million Soviet citizens in the Holodomor (1932-1933) but that didn’t stop the U.S. from allying with him. Immediately after WWII, the “largest forced population transfer in human history” occurred (12-14 million people, mainly women and children) without notice and is still unknown today. In Indonesia, a million people died as the U.S. supported General Suharto’s rise to power. There was Pol Pot’s massacre of 1 to 3 million Cambodians which, at the time, drew little attention. South Africa’s apartheid government existed for over 40 years and for most of that we turned a blind eye to the horrific oppression of black South Africans. Rabbi Alissa Wise challenges that Israel, with its Jewish settlements and institutional discrimination against Arab-Israeli citizens (like the Prawer Plan), is focused on a goal of “as much land as possible for Jews with as few Arabs as possible on it.” Yet, few seem to care.

All governments are great at demagoguery ­— using false claims and emotional arguments to win support. No government stands up and proclaims that they are slaughtering innocents. People don’t have time or aren’t really interested in investigating issues and wading through claims and counterclaims.

It can be hazardous to speak out as well. Nelson Mandela spent years in jail. It must be remembered that in Nazi Germany, many who spoke out were beheaded. I doubt I would have been brave enough to face that risk.

Focusing attention and stories on those that tried to make a difference might encourage others to take a step. Tell the stories of those that made small attempts as well as those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Focus on the ability of people to affect change. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Tricia Saenger


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