The Power of One

With the 75th Anniversary of “the liberation of Auschwitz [on January 27, the occasion was] marked by events around the world, culminating in a solemn ceremony at the former death camp [that included] dozens of aging Holocaust survivors,” The New York Times reports (Jan. 25). “Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, is worried.

“ ‘More and more we seem to be having trouble connecting our historical knowledge with our moral choices today,’ he said. ‘I can imagine a society that understands history very well but does not draw any conclusion from this knowledge.’ ”

“Across Europe and in the United States,” The Times continues, “there is concern about a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Toxic political rhetoric and attacks directed at groups of peoples — using language to dehumanize them — that were once considered taboo have become common across the world’s democracies.

“And as the living memory of World War II and the Holocaust fades, the institutions created to guard against a repeat of such bloody conflicts, and such barbarism, are under increasing strain.”

Judith Meisel is a Holocaust survivor of the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania and the Stutthof Concentration Camp in Poland. Her experiences during and after World War II inspired a life-long crusade against bigotry and racism. After witnessing the race riots of 1963, Judy has pursued and persevered in a campaign to speak out against racism and the need for greater tolerance in her community and around the country.

While I shared Judy’s story in my book, What Do You Stand For? and website, her powerful and personal story, and those of many others is a reminder of their commitment to human rights.

“I was having dinner, listening to the news,” Judy described. “After an African-American family by the name of Baker moved into an all-white neighborhood called Folcroft, a mob of people turned out taunting them, screaming, yelling at them, throwing all kinds of debris. I was devastated because here I was in Philadelphia, in the city of brotherly love and it was like Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) in 1938, November 9th when the world sat and looked at what was happening in Germany and nobody did anything about it!

“So, I baked some cookies and I went to the Bakers. I was called, ‘white trash,’ you name it. But I felt that if their homes were not safe, my home was not safe. If their rights are trampled on, my Jewish rights are trampled on.

“I was a Holocaust survivor, but I could not talk about it. I did not want to traumatize my children. But that incident with the Bakers, it made an incredible mark on me. I knew that I had to tell my story.

“Racism, bigotry… it’s still happening all over the world, and we have to constantly work at it to see that this does not happen here or anywhere.  We cannot afford to say, ‘What can I do? – I’m only one person?’  One person can do a lot!”

What can we do, today?

We can speak out whenever we hear rhetoric that demeans. We can speak out against all discrimination.

One person can do a lot!

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