What are some famous or important quotations about the Holocaust? Why are they important?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the sad truths about the Holocaust is that the quotations which emerge from it speak volumes about what it means to be human and to suffer.  They cause individual reflection about the cruelty that individuals can perpetrate upon one another.  

One particularly insightful quote about the Holocaust comes from Primo Levi.  A survivor of Auschwitz, Levi speaks to why the Holocaust happened:  "Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.”  This quote is powerful in exploring that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not solely demonic individuals.  Rather, the people who "locked the doors" or "threw the switch" were regular folk.  The true horror of the Holocaust was not that people like Hitler or Goebbels acquired power.  It was that the people who helped to facilitate the death of millions were the milk man, the butcher, and the local teacher. These people failed to question authority.  This quote speaks to how "the monster walks amongst us" in the Holocaust.

Another quote about the Holocaust comes from Anne Frank.  Her diary is seen as a critical component of any Holocaust reading.  One of her lines in the diary is a powerful quotation about the Holocaust:  "Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”  While the study of the Holocaust is really important in terms of confronting the sadness of the human condition, one can become easily lost in this forest of misery.  It is important to teach and learn the Holocaust with a theme of resistance.  Human resistance is critical to ensure that another Holocaust does not happen.  If human beings lose the ability to fight and resist, the seeds become sown for another miscarriage of human justice to take place.  Anne Frank's quote is not simplistic or reductive. She speaks to a condition of human identity in which one can be an active agent of change.  Representing all that is beautiful, even in the midst of the Holocaust, reminds us of the power within human beings.  The Holocaust was a time period that sought to remove such power.  Frank's quote reminds us that we have this power to be active forces of change in our world.  It is important to recall that someone who is in hiding from the Nazis, living every second of her life in perpetual terror, was able to write such words.  If she can assert such a voice of strength, it is almost as if we have a moral imperative to live out her words in preventing another vision of the Holocaust from happening.

One cannot go far in the study of the Holocaust without mentioning Elie Wiesel. His works have become central to the canon of Holocaust study.  Wiesel's contribution to the dialogue are essential to both historical and philosophical understanding. He writes, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” This speaks to another important aspect of the Holocaust.  We need to study and confront such a sad and horrific time period in recognition of those who perished under its weight.  Some would argue that it is "too sad" to study the Holocaust, while there are a few who deny its very existence.  It is essential to study the Holocaust in recognition of those who suffered the silencing of voice. To forego such a study is itself a form of injustice.  Wiesel speaks to this better than most.  These are a few of the many famous quotations about the Holocaust.

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