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When we say ‘never again,’ do we really mean it?

The former Auschwitz concentration camp in 2015. (Pawel Ulatowski/Reuters)

Getting to know names and faces can make it real.

You can get lost and found in the Auschwitz Memorial Twitter feed. Any human being who is convicted about “Never Again” ought to take a reflective, prayerful look. When I visited the concentration camp during the summer before our last presidential election, I had the overwhelming feeling that we were forgetting — that we could fall into such evil again. With the violence in the streets, in homes, on television, even in human hearts, that’s become a familiar feeling.

The power of the Auschwitz social-media presence is in the names and faces. Six million people died in the Holocaust. They were men, women, and children. They had names and stories. I often hear young people telling their “stories.” Let’s sit down a little with some stories, such as we know them, of the people behind that overwhelming number. Let’s do it to reverence their lives, to pray for their eternity, to ask God to never let this happen again. Of course, it is happening, isn’t it? The Uyghurs in China certainly come to mind. The long-suffering people of North Korea. If only the list ended there.

A few examples from recent tweets:

“18 September 1942 | A transport of 70 men arrived at #Auschwitz from Cracow: 67 Poles, 1 Roma, 1 Jew & 1 Ukrainian. Among them was Mieczysław Dziób (no. 64258). He escaped on 16 October. A year later he was captured, transferred back to the camp, and shot on 28 September 1943.”

“18 September 1911 | Polish Jewish woman Chana Lewin was born Biała Podlaska. She emigrated to France. In July 1942 she was deported from Drancy to #Auschwitz. She did not survive.

“18 September 1932 | French Jewish girl Rosa Farber was born in Paris. On her 10th birthday she was deported from #Drancy to #Auschwitz. She was murdered in a gas chamber after the selection.”

Ten years old. 

Every now and again, you get a surprise, a freedom success story — someone who made it out of hell alive: “18 September 1915 | Pole Stanisław Zyguła was born in Skopanie. A land surveyor. He was deported to #Auschwitz from Tarnów on 14 June 1940 in the first transport of Poles to the camp. . . . On 18 October 1944 he escaped. He survived the war.”

Do take a look at the Twitter account so you can look on so many faces and realize that things can get worse than what we are experiencing and that, as Hasidic Jews in New York find themselves living with the constant threat of hateful violence, we must be vigilant in protecting and defending human life in our law and how we live.

Here in the United States, we are not experiencing a Holocaust of people whose names and faces we can see. But we have been consumed with death because of COVID-19. And it’s not just people who contracted the disease and died. It’s people who died of coronavirus because of bad government decisions, the most egregious examples of which were made by the New York governor, who once waxed poetic about all lives having value; we now know he didn’t really mean it, because elderly people in nursing homes didn’t seem to matter much to him. And, to this day, his refusal of an independent investigation is consistent with his ideology. He already told us, before coronavirus, that he is in favor of assisted suicide. The nursing-home experience sure seems to confirm that he’s a leader in the “throwaway society” Pope Francis often talks about — the governor views some lives as not as valuable as others.

Is that why Black Lives Matter is really a thing? Because some lives don’t matter to some? As Roe v. Wade nears the half-century mark, clearly unborn lives don’t matter to our law. There has been some chipping away at that total abortion license, but there are miles to go if we are going to truly protect the vulnerable. And let’s face it: The violence in our streets has something to do with the violence that is done to the most sacred bond of the mother and child, pitting one’s rights against those of others. It was around this time last year that I unexpectedly saw a young woman leave a Planned Parenthood after having had an abortion. She looked hollow. She looked like life had been sucked out of her. Because it had been. We should be protecting her from having to do that. Abortion has done such damage in America. Misery overflows onto the streets from it. There’s a lot more going on in the anger and violence we are seeing these days.

And when it comes to coronavirus and death, it’s so much more than COVID-19. In recent days the Washington Post ran a report with the headline “Pandemic isolation has killed thousands of Alzheimer’s patients while families watch from afar.” I don’t know if we will ever be able to fully know the impact that extreme isolation is making. How many of us in perhaps some of the best of circumstances have struggled in ways we would have never anticipated? Now consider people with chronic conditions, people who are prone to depression, people who are alone. The list goes on. I keep hearing about suicides. Please, please, please, know that you are loved.

Start looking at names and faces. Insist on names and faces. Do not forget, or it will happen again. Every single human life matters and is a precious jewel. It’s when we don’t communicate this in our laws and eyes and words and actions — and in social media — then we get ourselves into a dark place of death again.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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