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Harvey Gotliffe, Ph.D. Headshot

Super Winners Have No Score to Settle

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Historically, the first Sunday in February has been set aside by more than 100 million Americans who spend the day ensconced in front of their television sets to watch a confrontation between two groups of people. That was the case once again on February 6 during Super Bowl XLV; an event that garners far more media coverage than it's worth.

Yet two life-altering events that took place nearly seven decades ago at approximately the same time of year, receive comparatively little attention and are primarily observed by members of the two groups who experienced them. These anniversaries are exceedingly meaningful and significant for both the Holocaust survivors and the former Japanese-Americans internees who remember them all to well.

This past January 20th was the 69th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, which took place outside of Berlin to determine "The Final Solution of the Jewish Question" -- the planned killing of millions of European Jews. One month later on Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced the resettlement of 120,000 Japanese Americans away from the West Coast.

The Jews of Europe were forced from their homes, sent to concentration camps where they languished in filthy, crowded barracks given barely enough food to survive. Millions were murdered in deaths camps including whole families for no reason other than they were Jews. The Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, were also forced from their homes and were eventually confined in 10 isolated interment camps in desolate areas. Sadly, their confinement helped to disintegrate the traditional, close-knit family.

In each instance, their government's actions were both illegal and immoral, and set lives asunder. However members of both groups who are around today have been diligent in their efforts to help ensure that these debilitating actions do not happen to others.

This June in San Jose, Calif., a third Gathering of Friends will take place bringing together Holocaust survivors and former Japanese-American internees. As in 2005 and 2008, they will share a bagel and sushi lunch and stories about their lives before, during and since the end of World War II. At first it was difficult for many Japanese-Americans to tell their tales of agony knowing what the survivors had endured until both groups decided to share and not compare.

Telling their stories can be agonizing and one former Japanese-American internee merely holds up four fingers whenever the subject of the internment is brought up, indicating the four years of his life lost in an internment camp. He has yet to tell his story to his 53-year-old daughter.

Other former internees and survivors are a constant source of inspiration and won't allow their voices to be stilled. They believe it is far more important to let the world know first hand what can happen specially when there is sometimes abject silence to the injustices around them today.

Instead of seeking revenge or blocking out the debilitating past, they have done the opposite and used their odious ordeal as an impetus to lead lives that exemplify their willingness and determination to succeed. This success is shown in the fruitful and exemplary lives they have lived while upholding high moral values. Many work to help ensure that the horrific wrongs that befell them do not happen again.

The former Japanese-American internees and Holocaust survivors are now in their 80s and 90s and their numbers diminish with every passing day. As they approach the end of their lives, they want others to learn what took place through their personal stories not from a maze of statistics. They emphasize the need for vigilance to help prevent the repetition of what occurred during their lives, and are more than willing to tell their stories.

If only a small portion of the millions of Americans who watched and listened to the Super Bowl were also willing to listen to the survivors and former internees stories and then take some positive action, it could help make the world a better place.