When “Never Forget” Becomes “We’re Not Them”

By Allen Watson

When I first went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, I was fifteen years old. We were on a school trip and I was a freshman in high school. I really didn’t know what to expect and, to be honest, I didn’t know much about history other than what we had learned in middle school. If you’ve never been to the Holocaust Museum, you are missing out on an experience that is indescribable. It is the one place that can silence a group of 100 teenagers. Even though we were a group of unruly kids, we truly began to understand the events that took place in one of humanity’s darkest periods.

I’ve been back many times sense, but the experience is always the same. The difference now is that I know the history, which makes the museum even more of a solemn experience. On the first visit, and on every visit since, I get a little pin that has the Hebrew word “Zachor” written on it, which is translated to “Remember.”

The common theme you will find in every Holocaust museum around the world is “Never Forget.” I can’t stress how important that it is that we do just that. We can never forget what happened.

Unfortunately, we have, and continue to do so.

  • Bangladesh
  • East Timor
  • Cambodia
  • Guatemala
  • Bosnia
  • Rwanda
  • Darfur
  • Myanmar

We forgot.

But it’s not us.

Conditions in Darfur, Sudan, were among the worst in human history

I don’t think it’s intentional. We never really see disaster until the disaster is well underway. Then we are just looking for a way out. The problem is that we spend months, or years, debating on whether or not an “ethnic cleansing” is even underway. With the Rohingya in Myanmar, we’ve once again decided that it is not a priority. Just like we did in every other case listed above until it was too late. Bosnia saw our strongest response, perhaps because they were the closest to European “us.”

But as I’ve gotten older, become involved in and written about politics, I’ve realized that we’ve forgotten in other ways.

Never forget that the Nazi party rose to power legally on a wave of nationalism.

Never forget that the Nazi party was a smaller faction of the German right wing…until they weren’t.

Never forget that the goal of the Nazi party was to extinguish left wing politics.

Never forget that Hitler and the Nazis coined the term “Lügenpresse.” Translated, this means “lying press.”

Never forget that German institutions slowly lost independent power, or became discredited, until Hitler had complete control.

Never forget what happened next.

We forgot.

We forgot that the major atrocities that take place in this world are usually preceded by smaller, much less noticeable events – like elections. They allow leaders to play off of groups that feel they have been left behind.

We forgot that demagogues can sometimes seem rational.

Let’s hope we remember before it’s too late.


Allen Watson is a writer from the Carolina coast. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in teaching. He loves Star Wars and Star Trek equally, which is rare in an individual. Find him on his blog or Twitter @allenwatson23.

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