I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
I remember he asked his father: “Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”
And now the boy is turning to me. “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.
And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe
Elie Wiesel, on accepting his Nobel Peace Prize
Today, people around the world mourn the six million and the five million who were victims of the Nazi terror: the six million Jews and the five million Rom Gypsies; gays and lesbians; priests, pastors, and nuns; Jehovah’s Witnesses; disabled people; and men and women of principle and courage from every occupied nation who were killed in the name of an idea.
We have failed them again and again: in Bosnia, in the Soviet Union, in Rwanda, in Iraq, in Cambodia, in the Sudan, in Liberia, in far too many countries where mass slaughter in the name of ideology or nationhood has been allowed happen while the world failed to do anything to stop it.
The twentieth century cannot but be remembered for its bloody legacy of genocide and slaughter.
We must all work every nerve to prevent the twenty-first being doomed to a similar fate. We haven't started well.