Nearly 68 years have passed since the end of the Shoah. Eleven million people were said to have been slaughtered. We correctly focus on the Six Million martyrs of our people because they were our people – our kin – and our destruction was the principle aim of Hitler’s and Germany’s monstrous plan. For the others who died, the aims were not as clear. For us, it was to be a “final solution to the Jewish problem.”
Yet we must focus, as well, on the actual number, because 11 million is an extraordinarily inconceivable number of people. For so many Germans and others in Europe not to have noticed so much organized killing is inconceivable. For the world not to have noticed is equally inconceivable.
And now the inconceivable has become ever more so, for it turns out that 11 million is not even close. Thanks to researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, we now know that the number is much higher – somewhere between 15 million and 20 million people methodically killed in death camps, forced labor camps, ghettoes, and villages throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Try to envision how high must be the mound of bones such a number represents. It cannot be done; the numbers, already staggering, have only become more so.
Where the world was, of course, is a moot point. The question of where the world is today, however, is not moot. The Shoah should have been a wake-up call to the world that such unspeakable horror must never be repeated. And yet such horrors have been repeated, albeit to a far lesser degree. Mass murder, however, is mass murder.
Genocide is still genocide.
How many of us can name all the places where acts of genocide have taken place since 1945? How many of us can put a number to each act?
Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge and its leader, Pol Pot, killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians. The world said nothing. The toothless Genocide Convention (which Cambodia signed) meant nothing.
In the 1990s, genocide reared its head in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In just a few days in 1995, 8,000 Bosnians were killed; more than 80,000 Bosnians would die in the coming years, as would another 20,000 or so on the other side as “ethnic cleansing” became a headlined phrase. The world, through the United Nations Security Council, acted to punish the perpetrators, but no one showed any desire to stop the killings.
In four months during 1994, 500,000 people, most of whom belonged to the minority Tutsis, were slaughtered in Rwanda. Again, there would be punishment, but only after the fact. There were some half-hearted efforts to stop the killings, perhaps, but nothing more.
Genocide is ongoing in Sudan and South Sudan. “Darfur” has become a watchword for this heinous crime against humanity. Where are the troops to stop the killings? Where is the world’s resolve?
Six million Jews died in the Shoah. Eleven million people in total were thought to have died. Now the number has risen to between 15 million and 20 million. The earlier numbers should have been enough; the latest figures surely must be so.
Yet the killings continue.
Sad to say, we have yet to learn the lessons of the Shoah. Although Jews have been in the forefront of efforts to call attention to various new acts of genocide, too many of us remain apathetic. Indeed, increasingly too many of us are distancing ourselves from the Shoah itself. Annual Yom Hashoah commemorations have been experiencing a diminution of interest and attendance in recent years. Too many of us are turning off when the Shoah is even raised in discussions and debates.
Six million Jews died in the Shoah. As many as 20 million people of all kinds may have died in the Shoah.
Remembering is not enough. Forgetting is unforgivable. Not acting is a crime against our own humanity.