July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Holocaust. What do you think when you hear these words? For most of you there is a certain sense of detachment, a feeling of “that was then, this is now.” Why dwell on the past when we should instead focus on the future? But I have an entirely different perspective.

Close your eyes for a moment. Breathe in deeply. Do you feel the inflation of your lungs as you inhale? Arch your back. Can you feel the supple muscle moving as you do? Place your feet firmly on the floor. Experience your full weight. You are completely, unmistakably, solid and alive.

Now superimpose this image on someone living at the time of the Holocaust. He or she was every bit as real as you are now. Sometimes, we travel back in time through our photographs and see the scene unfold before us in a two-dimensional light. The people back then seem almost like the characters in a story; they are real enough to us that we can sympathize with their plight but distant enough that we cannot fully appreciate their situations. But each person then was able to move like you do, think like you do, feel like you do.

Don’t just imagine a Jew shivering in a concentration camp bunker. Picture the temperature of your skin as you return home after a day playing in the snow. Your hands are frigid, your breath icy, but at least you can warm up in front of a blazing fireplace. The Jew in the camp did not have that comfort.

Feel yourself gripped with terror in the moment before breaching the crest of the rollercoaster hill. Your stomach clenches with grim anticipation, your heart rises in your throat, but as soon as you clear the top you face a mindless ride to the finish. Jews in the Holocaust never had that sense of relief. They lived in constant terror, constant danger. Death was the only finish.

Just try to see yourself as a teenager living back then. Take that myriad of emotions which you experience on a daily basis and apply them to this different time period. Happiness, sadness… the same feelings which you have now, just in a different context. The children then wanted the same things as you want today. They just needed to be satisfied with much less while you constantly demand more.

Now stretch your imagination just a bit further. Picture the Nazis themselves. They were just as real as their victims. They too experienced the cold, the heat, the sweat, the blood. What thoughts were running through their minds as they killed innocent people? Did they wince at the harsh recoil of the gun? Did they shudder at the rust-colored stains on their uniforms? Or did they saunter home at night with an easy conscience, even a feeling of satisfaction?

Though it is sometimes difficult to believe, Nazis were in fact human beings. That same man who spent his days terrorizing Jews may have had a family waiting for him at home. His loving wife and children thought of him with pride as he “defended” his country from the scum that was the Jewish nation. So, a monster by day, a father and husband by night.

Was every Nazi wicked? Probably not. Many were brainwashed from youth into believing that they were doing the right thing. Group mentality. Peer pressure, if you will. Did this excuse their actions even for a moment? Absolutely not. They murdered ruthlessly, tainted their own hands with the blood of others. Sometimes it is tempting to justify their actions simply because it is otherwise impossible to comprehend such cruelty. But if you contend that the Nazis were human, you must acknowledge that they ultimately had a choice. They chose evil.

Nazis and Jews; both were real, living, breathing people. Except the Nazis treated the Jews like animals and therefore stooped to the level of animals themselves. Today, however, Jews can walk down the street freely, safe and proud. Where are the Nazis?

By Avigail Goldberger

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