There are lessons from the Holocaust that should never be forgotten. The major one is that variations of the Holocaust can and will happen again to us or someone else if absolute power in the wrong hands is appeased and tolerated. Witness Pol Pot in Cambodia, Hafez al Asad in Hama and Saddam Hussein against his own people. On the Tampa Bay Solidarity Mission to Israel, one of our last stops was at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. We went into the new exhibit dedicated to the children who perished in the Holocaust. You enter by going into a narrow hallway carved into what appears to be stone. As you enter, there are soft moaning sounds with another-world aura to them. You enter the exhibit, which is totally dark, except for the lit candles and their mirror images glowing in the dark, giving the impression that all 1.5-million Jewish children have gathered into a final resting place to be a collective nir tamid (eternal light) of conscience for the world.
Thinking of the world 50 years ago that let it all happen, it is not enough just to condemn the Nazis for the evil that was done. We also must look at the indifference that led good people from democratic nations to sit by idly and do nothing when Jewish children and their parents were being slaughtered. The words "never again" come to mind as more of an affirmation and an expression of hope that Jews and others will not observe passively from the sidelines when Jews are being killed. But it ought to mean more than that. The Holocaust was directed primarily at Jews, but its lessons are universal.
At its most basic level, everyone _ Jew and non-Jew alike _ must revisit the Holocaust from the perspective of contemporary times. In that regard, the Holocaust always will be an important part of the human condition. And its lessons still cry out across the decades to us and to our unborn children and grandchildren.
In 1991, the world came together and stopped Saddam Hussein from further rape and pillage of Kuwait, and possibly lands beyond. We looked for analogies in Nazi Germany and Hitler to justify our collective action to destory Hussein's aggression. But achieving those goals led to new dangers for millions of people. There are new goals that ought to be put forward now in recognition of that fact. Saddam Hussein's continued barbarity within Iraq against innocent civilians demands response.
It is not enough to have just stopped his aggression in Kuwait. We now ought to stop his murder of innocent civilians among his own population. The 4-million Kurds of Iraq have long sought a measure of freedom and autonomy from the dictatorship that is Hussein's. We, as Americans, should not sit by idly while atrocities are being committed by Hussein. Jews know personally the price of indifference to our fate. The principle is the same today, and its lessons are being learned by the Kurds and Shiites who answered the call to overthrow Hussein. The blood of children cannot continue to be offered up on the altar of diplomatic uncertainty.
The United States, through our president, advocated the overthrow of Hussein. Iraqis responded to that advocacy in a meaningful way. We, the coalition partners, have an opportunity to help mold a new stability in Iraq, to bring together the disparate forces of the country into a federated government. And, in doing so, we will save lives. The stability of Iraq is essential to the stability of that area of the Middle East. It is not essential that Saddam Hussein remain in power to continue his butchery. Doing nothing, we are acting on behalf of Hussein.
Fifty years ago, the tide could have been turned in favor of saving Jews if the allies had acted. Too many people sat and did nothing. The result was a loss of one-third of our people.
What of Israel? What lessons is it to draw from with the U.S.-led coalition refraining from finishing the job? It was not long ago that Israel was pilloried for not being alert enough to foresee the massacres by Christian Arabs against Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. Are the United States and its coalition partners any less culpable for not foreseeing and for not acting to prevent the massacres taking place in Iraq?
Candles in Yad Vashem continue to flicker. I hope they will continue to illuminate the night and not be overcome by it.
Robert F. Tropp is executive director of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas County Inc.