The duty of witness. Forgetting evil is a dangerous corrosive

By Beryl Wajsman on April 21, 2014

As we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day this coming Sunday night, and the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that follows soon thereafter, there is a moral duty to take a hard look at the world around us. What we see must compel us to the responsibility of memory and witness. Particularly as, seemingly all around us, there is a desire to forget.

Stories flood us from around the world - the western world- of school after school, education ministry after education ministry, reducing or eliminating Holocaust education so as not to “offend” or “disturb” certain groups. In a time when so many, particularly young people, are informed by nothing more than sixty second sound bites and 140 character tweets, how can we hope to have the informed citizenry so necessary to the success and survival of free societies without an understanding of history? Where we have come from and what mankind is capable of is essential if we are to guard against repetition of horrors that we still see today.

Here in Quebec, world history is an elective, and only in Sec V. How are young people supposed to gauge the character of man if they don’t understand that the Holocaust brought the world into what can rightly be called the post-apocalyptic era. Mankind’s fleeting encounters with progress reduced to mounds of ashes.

World War II was not simply about military conflict or the heroism of allied servicemen and women. It was about the capacity for the most civilized of nations to descend into the hell of bloodlust. All civilizations live on a precipice. That is the lesson for today. A lesson we must vigilantly disseminate. Particularly at a time of inelegant self-absorption and ungracious avarice, when too many think the shiny, smiling images of electronic advertising reflect reality. We cannot afford to have history pass judgment someday again with the terrifying words “Too late.”

Tailoring the passing on of knowledge, or indeed eliminating some, merely so as  not to disturb sensibilities, is a betrayal not only of the victims, but of so many Canadians who paid the ultimate price in fighting evil. Teaching, in a way meant to resonate with multi-cultural sensibilities or politically correct mindsets, is a betrayal of the public trust and a retreat from the primary responsibility of the search for truth. Social “peace” is not the ultimate object of free societies. Social justice is. And that includes the study of inconvenient truths. Especially to teach the young the necessity - the urgency - of speaking truth to power.

Chris McGovern, a former education advisor to British Prime Minister John Major, once wrote that, “History is not a vehicle for promoting political correctness.” Fear of facts is today as prevalent among the oppressed as among the oppressors. In either case, whether as deceit or self-deceit, it is a dangerous corrosive.

Free societies – liberal pluralistic civilizations – should not feel compelled to adapt to the less free and the less liberal. For where does it end? Will we reach a point where the teaching of democracy itself will be tailored because there are those who reject the responsibility of liberty?

The hard truth is this: if we choose to live free, then only in mankind’s history and in a fidelity to its teaching, can we give future generations the power to withstand the evil that men do.


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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