September 2, 2022
Our impression from media is that mid-August through early September 1945 must have been marked by unmixed jubilation over the end of World War II. Surely that was true for some (including those photographed celebrating), but for millions, the war had brought unimaginable horror and loss that would not be wiped out by the war’s formal end on Sept. 2, 1945.
For millions of others, including refugees and those who would be trapped in totalitarian regimes that survived the war, much suffering was still ahead.
Most poignant was the sorrow of those whose family members and other loved ones were killed in the low point of our civilization – the Holocaust that took the lives of millions of Jewish people and others – and the survivors whose lives could never be the same.
Looking back on history is important, particularly when it allows us to learn from past mistakes and so not repeat them. That, unfortunately, seems hard to do. Conflicts, displacement of people from their homes, intolerance and violence haven’t disappeared, though we surely have enough precedent to know how wrong they are.
A bitter example is a recent rise in antisemitic attacks. A news story about New York City notes:
In New York, street harassment, minor assaults, and even full-on beatings of visible Jews are almost a banality now, too frequent over too long of a period to be considered an active crisis, even in the communities most affected. The city reported a 76% year-over-year rise in hate crimes during the first three months of 2022—attacks on Jews more than tripled, accounting for much of the spike.
Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League reported that in 2021, antisemitic attacks in the United States increased by 34% over the previous year, to 2,717, the highest number since the 1970s. A significant rise was also reported internationally
It would seem that no lesson from WWII could have been more forcibly impressed on our world than the evil of antisemitism. So, it is disheartening in the extreme to see this type of resurgence.
Surely, among the most important lessons we could be reminded of at the anniversary of the end of WWII is that violent attacks on racial, ethnic, religious or other groups have no place in a decent social order. Polarization is not only an ugly feature of social media and politics, but it can have dangerous and even deadly consequences – especially for minority groups.
It would be naive to expect that atavistic prejudice and violence would disappear after WWII, but its commemoration could be a time to remind ourselves that we must be vigilant in applying the lessons we should have learned from that conflict.
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