The 20th Century's Defining Crime

HOLOCAUST Remembrance Day came this week on April 19, the day of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. It was the 50th anniversary of that brave event when a few hundred Polish Jews, having seen 330,000 fellow Jews deported to the Treblinka death camp, fought the Nazis in a bitter, three-week underground war.

Such events continue to speak to us. Five decades since the Nazis began the extermination of 6 million Jews in Europe, shock waves from the period continue to register. It is important that this defining crime of the 20th century not be forgotten.

On Monday, the new United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is formally dedicated. The Vatican recently ordered nuns living at Auschwitz to return to their home convents, thus removing what Jews felt was an inappropriate symbol at a camp solely dedicated to their genocide.

Complaints have been raised that the Holocaust has been politicized by some in the Jewish community who want sole rights to the world's suffering at mid-century. Others did suffer. Some Jews worry the new memorial in Washington will "Americanize" the Holocaust and thus trivialize it.

Such concerns should not be used to ignore or deny what happened. A new poll showing that 22 percent of Americans are open to the possibility that the Holocaust never happened is a stark statement about such denial.

The Holocaust, and the problem of evil it implies, cannot be grasped all at once. It has to be grappled with over time. In this year's brilliant documentary "Restless Conscience," about German resistance to Hitler, a captain tells his thoughts after stumbling onto an execution of 1,200 Ukrainian Jews: "Instinctively I knew ... that some kind of traditional accepted harmony has been destroyed here, and we have been witnesses. We'd seen it and we were not able to put it in words nor thoughts nor in a logic al deduction [about] what to do."

The reason to remember the Holocaust is not to wallow in the darkness of that horror. It is to find out honestly how it happened - the lies, the manipulation, the Allies' obtuseness in the face of evidence - so that one will know how to keep it from happening again.

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