Never again

Two words link the Holocaust, school shootings

Apr 9, 2018 by

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Never again. These words have a specific connection to the Holocaust. But their power is not limited to remembrance of Nazi genocide against Jews. In the United States in 2018, they are the cry of youth who have been stirred to political action by school shootings. These two simple words stand at the intersection of historical memory and current events.

After a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, students launched a national campaign for gun control. They called it #NeverAgain. Their grief and anger sparked a movement. On March 24, across the country, students led March for Our Lives rallies, demanding action to stop gun violence and vowing to exercise their political power.

Every generation discovers its own reasons to struggle against prejudice and violence. America’s youth — whom some have called the mass-shooting generation — may have found the cause that will make their mark on history. They’ve grown up with active-shooter drills. The rest of us may shake our heads in despair, but for them it is personal. It is their bloodstained schools, their peers murdered.

If their elders do not act, the schoolchildren will. Children like Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old from Virginia, who captivated the audience at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington as she declared, “Never again.”

Those words — whether referring to the murder of American teenagers or Nazi genocide against the Jews — prompt a list of questions: What can an 11-year-old do? What can any of us do? What would any of us have done if confronted with the choices of another time and place? What can we learn from the decisions of those who went before us?

Intuitively, we know the answers: Each of us can make a difference. All choices matter. And all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Or worse, to join in the evil that surrounds us.

These were the thoughts that simmered below the surface of a conference on “Mennonites and the Holocaust” March 16-17 at Bethel College (MWR, March 26). Listening to stories of complicity with anti-Semitism and, occasionally, heroic actions of resistance, participants may have asked themselves: Would I have accepted the Nazi invitation to claim houses and businesses confiscated from Jews (“Jews out, Germans in”), as the Mennonites of Deutsch Wymyschle, Poland, did in 1939? Would I have risked my life to hide a Jewish baby, as Geertje Pel-Groot, a Dutch Mennonite woman, did? (A neighbor betrayed her, and she died at Ravensbruck, a concentration camp.) Would I have participated in the massacre of 3,700 Jews at Zaporizhia, Ukraine, as two Mennonite brothers, Ivan and Jacob Fast, reportedly did?

Answers may not come so easily. In fact, they may prompt more questions: Who were these people? How could they have done these things? The Fast brothers were not monsters, nor was Geertje Pel-Groot a saint. They were ordinary people who let evil deceive them — or summoned the courage to resist. As we face our own choices, in a world stained by anti-Semitism and gun violence, the words ring true: Never again.


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