Every organization has some jargon-y concept to encourage people to share something personal about themselves that led them to whatever movement they are part of. In STAND, the student led movement to end mass atrocities, we refer to this as a “story of self.” So without further ado, here is my story of self that made me part of the #genprev generation:
My great grandparents were wandering jews in Eastern Europe before World War II and the Holocaust. While the Holocaust was the climax of anti- Semitism in Eastern Europe, it was certainly not the first (or last) instance of discrimination. Jewish people were actively targeted through programs and other oppressive actions and sentiments.
Most of my family was very lucky and successfully escaped Eastern Europe before the Holocaust began. But not all of them were so lucky.
When my family arrived in Boston, it was discovered that my great aunt Rachel had tuberculosis and they would not let her in to the country. They forced her to return to her home in Eastern Europe. While she was in the hospital after her return, Rachel wrote letters to my family regularly . But one day the letters stopped coming and they never heard from her again.
It was later discovered that around the same time the Nazis had invaded the town my great aunt Rachel had been living in.
We can only assume that she was taken by the Nazis and killed in a concentration camp. Her name is not in any of the Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ Names Database and we have not learned anything more about where she lived her last days or where she died. She only lives on in our memories.
I grew up hearing this story regularly so while it, of course, makes me incredibly sad, it also makes me incredibly angry. The United States had the opportunity to let her into the country and literally save her life. And if that was true in this one case, there have to be hundreds or even thousands of other people that could have been saved if the United States hadn’t been so (irrationally) insistent on protecting themselves from outsiders.
We cannot make the same mistakes of past generations. It is our responsibility as the genocide prevention generation to stand up for those facing genocide and mass atrocities and ensure that their lives aren’t erased- to ensure that they can live on in the real world and not just in our memories.