Learning from the painful past instead of tearing it down

The infamous entrance to the Auschwitz death camp

All over the United States, the United Kingdom, and with calls for the same in Canada, statues are being torn down by people who have decided they should not exist.

Those statues include likenesses of the Founding Fathers – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, and – oddly – Christopher. Columbus. The reason? They owned slaves back in the 1700s.

It was the norm to own slaves. They weren’t the only ones. American Indians owned slaves too. Slavery was a product of its time, as were the slave-owning Founding Fathers now being vilified. Slavery was not considered racism in the 1700s. Racism did not exist as a cause, it was the norm.

A horrible norm. But a norm.

The fact is there are no living slaves anymore. And there are very few people – if any – who ever met someone who knew former slaves. But still, they insist that slavery be eradicated from view – even though it’s been abolished since 1865.

It’s gotten me thinking about other monuments to history that remain standing. Monuments that represent the worst possible time in the modern era, of genocide, torture, religious persecution, hatred, and murder of millions.

The Holocaust.

Why do we, as Jews, not insist that camps like Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen, and others be completely dismantled?

Why do we encourage visitors to those camps, as gut-wrenching an experience as it is?

Why do we go and gaze with utter heartbreak at the ovens that burned six million of our people?

Why do we not tear down the gas chambers where Jews of all ages were crammed in together, naked, screaming as they were choked by deadly Zyklon-B?

Why are barracks still standing? Buildings that housed the most vile, evil, murderous SS officers, Nazi killers? And tours given?

Why are the gates with “Arbeit Macht Frei,” a phrase deviously designed to quell the anxious and avoid an uprising among the newly arriving Jewish prisoners, still standing?

Why is the infamous entrance to Auschwitz a place where people of all religions flock to visit?

Why is there still barbed wire found throughout these camps, reminders of where so many met their deaths at their own hands, unable or unwilling to be murdered by monsters, choosing instead to take their own lives against electrified barbed wire, with their own free will?

Why is none of that taken down the way statues of slave owners are being eliminated by social justice warriors?

Because we can handle the painful past.

We don’t need to erase history in order to live with the present.

We can face what was considered acceptable by some, at least legal by others, despite the horrors, atrocities, and devastating losses our people incurred.

And we can use those monuments of horror to teach. To learn. To demonstrate that despite a death sentence upon the Jews of Europe, our people emerged stronger than ever. Many survived, and created lives and families and those families teach others too.

Erasing history doesn’t change the past.

Tearing down statues doesn’t erase the past.

But learning from these monuments is crucial to moving into the future with different eyes and practices and attitudes.

Tearing down statues only makes people ostriches.

Perhaps those people can learn from the strength of the Jewish people who were not only used for slave labor, they were then put to death when no longer useful. Learn from the strength of survivors who remain giants in our lives, inspirations and models of resilience.

Only in Stalinist Russia and Orwellian society did erasing history change the past for those under the thumb of Authority.

In this, our free world, attempting to erase history only helps those who cannot face reality.

Learn from those who rose above, not those who tear down.

Learn from the Jewish people.

Learn from history.

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