One day last week I ran into someone I've known for awhile who in offering a less than flattering comment on President Obama's trip to the Middle East took a swipe at the nation of Israel as only a snarky wiseass who knows nothing could ever do. (Yeah, sorry, Dave, it did tick me off more than I let on. Surprised? Why would I give you the satisfaction of letting you see you got my goat.)
In my suave and urbane prep school days, I'd have referred to him as a Holocaust Denier and been done with it. Such people are pathetic but for decades their numbers continue to grow. I've never been able to figure out how in the face of all the proof that the catastrophe existed, the deniers persist and insist otherwise. Today is as good a day as any to NOT give up and not give it to that.
Today is is Vom HaShoah Ve-Hagevurah, Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism, this year marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Thanks to the Cold War that divided Europe when I lived there, I have never been to Warsaw or Auschwitz or Theresienstadt. Next year in Jerusalem.
I did visit Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, both in what was then West Germany, so for the Daves and all the other luckless, lunchless losers everywhere who sigh when 'something historical' is mentioned and who tell me 'that was so long ago' when discussing crimes against humanity during World War II, it wasn't and it isn't and it never will be.
Genocide never goes out of style. The Nazis wed 'good old fashioned' traditional anti-semitism, around in Europe since the Middle Ages with the mechanized efficiency of the assembly line to give all of us mass murder on a scale and scope unimaginable. And yet it happened.
Jews, mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, gypsies, socialists eventually any one and everyone those in power came to hate, all went up the chimney. And it keeps happening, to this day, in a dozen different places across the globe and more even as I type this and as you read it. The cast of victims changes, but the movie stays the same.
We have the power to reinvent our world or to trudge on unthinking and unblinking to the grave, looking neither to the left or right. We can live out our lives with a lie as an explanation or choose to be an exclamation. We will, in either instance, pass from this world but one choice will free us and those around us to be better and to be better always.
That exercise of free will, to choose to be and to do good will mark our place in time for ever. The earth, and this world, will be changed because we were in it.
And that is how we should define heroes.