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You Are My Witnessess

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tells a story that is not alien or unknown to us. And while may have studied the historical facts surrounding the events of World War II, the exhibitions at the USHMM are shocking. Once inside the museum, a sequence of emotions hits you all at once. For me, it was anger, sadness, and aching. I was there last summer, and I remember feeling the discomfort even in my bones.

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I was recently invited to the screening of a movie here in Panama. Denial (2016), directed by Mick Janson and starring Rachel Weisz, tells the story of professor Deborah Lippstadt who is sued for libel by a Holocaust denier. I must admit, prior to watching this film I had never heard of such thing as a Holocaust denier and can not believe they even existed (exist?). The film is great, by the way: well acted, intense, and effective at delivering the message of the importance of truth and justice. It was screened at a local theater, organized by the Friends of Yad Vashem.

One scene was particularly touching: when Deborah Lippstadt visits the Auschwitz death camp to prepare her defense. A Jew herself, of course she is moved to tears. I think the audience was as well, as the cinematography displayed flashbacks of the years when innocent men, women, and children were locked inside gas chambers – screaming, knocking on the doors, scratching on the walls – and then back to the present day ruins of what is left at the camp.

The USHMM is a place to remember the painful history of the deadliest genocide ever known to mankind. This museum exposes the intimate and personal stories of those who survived and those who did not.

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Merriam-Webster defines witness as: a person who sees an event, typically a crime or accident, take place. I believe that everyday we are witnesses to things we know are wrong, but simply choose to look away. And I am sure that when it suits us, we would even go as far to sponsor such acts that are immoral and even illegal at times. In the words of Primo Levi, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

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