Written by Alison Vick

On January 9 2016, I walked alone into Auschwitz. As a historian of Modern Germany and 20th century war crimes I thought I knew what to expect of my visit. Never have I been more wrong.

Every step carried me beyond my senses to an ethereal plane of humanity—a tenth circle of hell. A hell where the mechanical replaces human feeling. In the center is a mirror that reveals your innermost self; it serves as a reminder that even the most ordinary person can become complicit in genocide through hate, jealousy, apathy, and a willingness to follow to corrupt authority. And that corruption of the human soul often starts slowly, subtly.

That evening, I kissed a small stone and set it atop a memorial at Auschwitz II as an eternal sign for the victims of the Holocaust. Around me, I saw visitors from all corners of the world who came to honor the Jews, Poles, Slovenes, Czechs, and million others who perished at Auschwitz during the world’s worst genocide That sight renewed my faith that we as human beings could uphold that sacred promise we pledge the twelve-million victims of the Holocaust: “Never Again!”

On January 9 2021, five years to the day after my visit to Auschwitz, I read about the brazen antisemitism expressed by American rioters during their assault on the United States Capitol. With a churning stomach, I listened to the news of rioters wearing the shirts: “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE—Six Million Weren’t Enough.” I could not imagine how those rioters dared declare themselves citizens of the United States—the great bastion of freedom, tolerance, and democracy in the world; and a country that fought the Nazis and liberated camps in Europe. Tragically, the displays by those rioters marked another chapter in the horrific rise of contemporary, American antisemitism.

Our country and communities stand at a historically divisive crossroads. But as educators and scholars who are invested in our students, we have agency in shaping their worldviews. We can help our students understand we all belong to the human community and are responsible for practicing acceptance. As Teaching Fellows for the Tennessee State Holocaust Commission, we are members of a community that can help students connect past to present, and evaluate the importance of individual responsibility historically, and contemporarily. In doing so, we can all help our students discover that they have the choice to become Oskar Schindlers in a world full of Amon Göths. Then, “Never Again!” will ring triumphant.

7 Comments

  1. Steve Reddick on February 2, 2021 at 5:49 pm

    Allison,

    Thank you for this eloquent testimony and reflection of why what we hope to achieve as educators and scholars has never been more urgently needed in our country than now. Very moving and inspiring!

    All the best,

    Steve Reddick
    Teaching Fellow
    Oak Ridge, TN

  2. Alison on February 4, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    Thank you, Steve!

  3. Danisha Stewart Teaching Fellow Memphis, TN on February 5, 2021 at 12:05 am

    This was very empowering, and the exact reason why the Holocaust must be taught. Thanks for sharing

  4. Susanna Epler on February 5, 2021 at 1:19 am

    It is our responsibility to confront and stop the seeds of this sort of horror from rooting. Yes, in America. Yes, now!

  5. Terri Gilbert (retired teacher) on February 5, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    In recent days, weeks, months, and years, people have bandied about comments of this politician or that one being like Hitler, yet few have turned the mirror to themselves. Thank you for your insight into the dangers of being complicit.

  6. Kim Kenneson on February 9, 2021 at 11:16 am

    Thank you so much. I taught an extensive lesson on the Capitol attack, using pedagogy embedded in Holocaust education, focusing on the propaganda, the law of the land, and the massive number of people who observed and supported — and the anti-Semitic presence at the attack. I appreciate your wise insights on our “human community”

    Kim Kenneson
    Teaching Fellow
    Johnson City, TN

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