04/20/2012 11:06 am ET | Updated Jun 20, 2012

Never Again: Lessons to Take Away from Holocaust Remembrance Day

After being rescued from the Nazi concentration camps, the Holocaust survivors, along with the rest of the world, uttered a somber declaration: Never again. Symbolic and profound, these two words solidified a promise to future generations. Never again would the global community allow a dictator like Adolf Hitler to rise to power. Never again would they stand idly by as thousands were stripped of their families, homes, dignity, and pride. Never again would they allow a Holocaust, which claimed the lives of over six million innocent individuals, to occur again.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was instituted to ensure that we never forget the tragedies that occurred. This much it has succeeded in doing: it is clear that we have not forgotten the Holocaust and what it stood for. To us, it remains the apex of human cruelty, viciousness, and evil. Yet even though we remember, we have still broken our promise of "never again" -- not once, not twice, but time and time again. Since the Holocaust, atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, and Darfur have all claimed the lives of countless innocent civilians and destroyed the lives of millions more.

The fact is that once we step beyond the basic history of what transpired, the Holocaust remains a cold and distant event. Because many of the victims of the Holocaust are still unknown -- faceless and nameless -- it has become all too easy to brush off their stories and legacies as outliers in human history. We have made the story of the Holocaust become simply another page in the textbooks -- something for us to learn about, but never to learn from. Clearly then, it is not our indifference toward the atrocities and our unwillingness to remember that have caused us to shatter our promise; it is how we choose to remember that has rendered us unable to prevent its reoccurrence.

This is our failure. By refusing to recognize and learn from the mistakes of our past, we are, in the words George Santayana, "condemned to repeat [them]." We may be reluctant to accept that ordinary citizens such as ourselves were complicit with this awful tragedy, but only because it reminds us that in a situation like the ones those German citizens faced, we too could easily be deluded into believing the same. The Holocaust was not an isolated outlier; given the right circumstances, another situation like it could easily arise.

The burden lies on us to ensure that one doesn't. Indeed, as Israeli President Moshe Katsav aptly put it, "The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity as a whole." Though perpetrated by a few, the Holocaust was, in its entirety, the fault of the entire global community, who simply watched on as the few committed acts of unspeakable evil.

We have to learn from our mistakes. In order to prevent future atrocities and genocide, we need to educate ourselves about the Holocaust. By learning about how the Nazi party initiated its crusade with lesser acts of discrimination, played on the emotions of the unwitting German citizens and exploited a wider lack of moral reflection, we can ensure that future generations do not fall prey to the same ploys and tactics.

Furthermore, speaking up against acts that we know are immoral and unjustified now, before they spiral beyond our control, serves as another crucial step for future change. This can take the form of petitioning local leaders to prioritize civil rights, participating in demonstrations against human rights abuses, or simply urging friends to refrain from utilizing discriminatory insults such as "gay" or "retarded." After all, the Holocaust didn't start with the Final Solution. It started with the call for the destruction of Jewish businesses and the mandate for Jews to wear the yellow Star of David badge to differentiate them from the Aryan population. If people had spoken up against those injustices then, Hitler may never have been able to gain the momentum necessary to carry through with his plans, and the Holocaust may never have happened.

Inaction is not an option, for as Holocaust survivor Leslie Meisels said, "Silence helps the oppressors." We cannot consent to being bystanders and simply watching injustices pervade the fabric of our societies. That is how the Holocaust began, and thus that is what we must avoid. Only through recognizing and combating prejudice at its roots can we hope to ever truly prevent a tragedy like the Holocaust from ever occurring again. Only then can we fulfill our promise of "never again."