I have always been fascinated as well as saddened when I read about world history. The cause of my misery is the recurring phenomena in human history that is unfortunately relevant both to the past and to the contemporary world — war.
War is an important concept we students learn about in history. Every country in this world has seen the brutalities of war and what it can do to our inherent sense of humane-ness. Therefore, if we look at the world today, can we truly say we have learned from our mistakes?

Every morning, we start our day with the newspaper, most of the time sporting headlines like-‘Five killed in militant attack in Srinagar’, ‘Suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, 20 persons dead’, or ’50 killed in terrorist attack’. When I read such news stories, I begin to wonder where mankind is headed.

The Holocaust, as most of us know, was one of the most shocking events to have occurred in the history of the world. Words are not sufficient to describe the atrocities that were meted out to over 11 million people, for the simple reason that they were either Jewish, or deemed ‘unfit to live’. Even today, it is difficult for anyone not to be affected in some way or the other after reading about the holocaust.

Imagine being treated worse than an animal simply because you are ‘different’. Imagine being wrenched away from your family and loved ones, never to see them again. Imagine living in a place where all you see everyday are scores of people like you being shot, trampled upon, being burnt alive and tortured. Imagine dreading every day, every minute, every hour, not knowing if you would make it to the next. Well, this was the living hell on earth that millions of Jews and others had to face from 1939 to 1947.

Photographs, survivor accounts, and the remains of the death camps as they exist today give us a glimpse of the inexplicable horror that was the Holocaust. The most common reaction to the Holocaust is; ‘didn’t the people perpetuating these horrors have anything remotely resembling a conscience?’

Many SS officers derived sadistic pleasure taking turns to see how many bullets they could put into a Jewish baby for it to die; other frighteningly inhuman men like Dr. Mengele conducted grotesque experiments on the Jews under the pretext of ‘genetic studies’. I did some research on the Nazis and the officers working in the infamous death camps-Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. Shockingly, far from being psychopaths, the tests conducted on them proved that their minds were as normal as yours and mine. In short, the prejudice against the Jews had taken such deep root in their minds that they did not think it was evil to torture them.

How different is it today? Prejudice is everywhere; in India, it is the higher castes against the lower castes, while in other parts of the world it is the whites against the blacks. Of course, these are much ‘milder’ as compared with the Holocaust, but if things go the way they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if a repeat happens in the future.

Every day, all over the world, people are being mercilessly slaughtered simply because they happen to follow a different religion or belong to a different race.

Ideologies like the jihad ideology are no different from Nazism. Indeed, it is as if history has repeated itself. The world looked on, too scared to protest or too deep-rooted in their hatred to find anything amiss, when the Holocaust happened.

Today, it still looks on as terrorist strikes take place everyday – the torture of the inmates in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq brings back memories of the indescribable torture of Jews in the death camp Treblinka if only on a smaller scale. Closer home, the senseless killing of innocent people by none other than the Army, to earn rewards, evokes a similar sense of horror. The terrorist strikes and conflicts that take place around the world, thus, heighten fears that they may snowball into a full-fledged war. Moreover, these incidents have become almost a daily occurrence. Thus, it is almost as if we have got ‘used’ to hearing about violence against innocent people.

This is clearly not the attitude we should assume. Indifference and denial are the surest ways of ensuring that such atrocities continue unchallenged. As responsible citizens of the world, we must make sure our voices are heard. The protests that took place against the United States’ invasion of Iraq, for instance, were on a very small scale. In this way, if we try and face up to our fear of authority or control and express our concern for the revival of the human spirit, together, we can and will make a difference. We must involve, unite and resolve to bring about this realization. Only then, can the original virtues of peace, brotherhood and humanity be reinstated.

Nandini Swaminathan