Forgive and Forget

Question

Please can u help me? I have been set an essay where I have to answer the question, 'People shoulf "frogive and forget" and stop raking over the past.' Do you agree? I have to answer this question and I then have to add a secondary opinion. Could you e-mail me your opinion? Thankyou.

Harry W. Mazal OBE answers:

Thank you for your recent enquiry.

I am one of the persons in the Holocaust History Project that responds to questions from our readers. It is possible that you will receive other replies from my colleagues.

Since you are writing to the Holocaust History Project, I presume that you are suggesting that everyone "forgive and forget" what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945. Would it be easy for you to forgive someone who murdered your baby or your mother, or someone you dearly love in front of your eyes? Could you ever forget that? It is only when you see things in a personal way that you can perhaps understand the pain of others.

In twenty years or so all of the persons who witnessed the atrocities committed by the Nazis will be dead. All we will have to remind us of these dreadful acts committed by man against his fellow man are the ashes of the murdered people, the writings of those who survived, and the evidence that historians have accumulated over the years. When one reads history, one is, in essence, "raking over the past." As long as there are people who write, read, or teach history, the past will come alive.

The best response to your questions comes from the pen of the great philosopher Santayana:

"Those who forget the past shall be condemned to repeat it."

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

Question:

I was wondering why it is so vital that the remembrance, history, and lessons of the Holocaust be passed to a new generation? What can i as a student do to combat and prevent prejudice, discrimination and violence in our world today?

Gord McFee Responds:

Thank you for your questions. I am one of the volunteers who answers questions like this.

You ask very good questions for which there is no simple answer. I can only give you some ideas, but the real answers lie within you.

It is not the fact and figures of the Holocaust that need to be passed to new generations. They are important in understanding the dimensions of it, but the real things that need to be remembered, and passed on, are that it happened at all. We need to look at what broke down, and what didn't work as it should have, that allowed something as awful as this to happen. We need to try to understand why the perpetrators did it, and why so many stood by and watched. There are numerous pages on our website that deal with these issues. I will only mention a couple.

http://www.holocaust-history.org/jews-central/

http://www.holocaust-history.org/short-essays/why-the-jews.shtml

http://www.holocaust-history.org/short-essays/why-the-germans.shtml

http://www.holocaust-history.org/questions/forgive-and-forget.shtml

And, as the last link above points out, we must remember that unless we understand and deal with the lessons from history, we will experience them again.

There is one main way that you and your friends can reduce prejudice, discrimination and violence in the world, and that is don't practice them yourselves. It's pretty hard for any one of us to change the world, but if every person does his or her part, the occurrence of these evils will be greatly reduced.

I know this is terribly inadequate for the questions you have asked, but I hope it gives you food for thought. Others of my colleagues may have contributions on this as well.

All the best.

-- Best Regards

Gord McFee

Question:

I am doing an investigation for school about the question: Is there any use of wo II war criminals to be condemned after 1990? I hope you can help me with this and maybe give me some information about when someone is a war victim and when he is just a soldier? Thank you very much!

Harry W. Mazal OBE Responds:

Thank you for your recent question addressed to the Holocaust History Project.

I am one of the persons who responds to questions from our readers. It is possible that you will receive other responses from my colleagues.

You seem to be questioning the morality of trying and, if convicted, sentencing war criminals who committed their felonies during Word War II. There are several reasons why I believe that some war criminals should be tried:

1. Murder is a crime that does not have a statute of limitations. No matter when a crime is committed, the criminal is liable for trial and conviction (if found guilty) at any time ... even fifty or sixty years later. The crime does not expire, for good reason.

2. While judging and sentencing a war criminal when he or she is 70, 80, or 90 years old might appear to be a sterile exercise in vengeance, I feel that it helps deter future crimes by potential war criminals. Every potential war criminal is therefore on notice that he/she will be pursued until he/she is caught or dies. Mengele , for example, was never caught, but he lived in fear every day of his life and was never able to return to his family or his country.

3. On a more personal basis: If you had a young child that was brutally murdered, could you ever rest until the perpetrator was caught and tried? It is easy to dismiss crimes when they are committed against thousands or millions. It is quite another when one views each dead person as the mother, father, son, daughter, etc., of someone else.

When is one a war victim (I presume that you meant criminal) and when is one just a soldier? This is a question that requires for you to conduct some research. You should read the texts of the Hague and of the Geneva Conventions if you want to understand the difference between what is acceptable in a war and what is not. I have found the following book to be a useful source:

The Laws of War : A Comprehensive Collection of Primary Documents on International Laws Governing Armed Conflict
Edited by: W. Michael Reisman and Chris T. Antoniou c. 1994,
Vintage Books ISBN 0-679-73712-X

I hope that this answers your questions.

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

back to the list of questions