In the wake of the Holocaust the world was made to stand face to face with the reality of what we, all of us, can do to others. At our worst, we are monsters. All we have to do is lose the capacity to see the value in others, the ability to empathize, and then find a reason to view them as "life unworthy of living".
"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," Primo Levi, Holocaust Survivor.
We often focus on the leaders we can easily identify and, as much as they deserve it, vilify. They become a symbol of what we hate. Often a symbol of what we hate about ourselves. They take on that role because they acted in ways that show how hateful and vile we as human beings can be. And while they deserve our condemnation, we often fail to scrutinize those who helped them gain the authority they needed in the first place. That would require facing the mirror images of ourselves and witnessing the monsters we wish not to be.
During the Holocaust the killings were only made possible by the complacency and silence of those not targeted for extermination. The deportations were made possible by the willingness of men and women to carry out such abuses without questioning the authority of those who had ordered them. And the fanaticism it took to fight and defend such heinous crimes was made possible by everyday men and women surrendering themselves to the fear which drove the will of the majority.
Today we find ourselves learning once again that leaders are not the sole reason atrocities occur. Or at least now, in the age of leaders like Trump, we should be learning this lesson before it is too late. We should be vigilant in monitoring society around us for signs that we are being led along toward actions and policies that deliberately target others for harm. We should be ready and willing to openly challenge our governments, our religious leaders and even our friends and family when they push ideas that encourage us and others to either join in or carry out actions that harm minorities and marginalized portions of society. We must be relentless and refuse to grow tired as we stand for the rights of all peoples regardless of what faith they believe in, where they come from or what race or ethnicity they happen to be. If we are to avoid being judged as people who stood silently by while others suffered, we must scream.