Evil is real. It is not an abstract concept.
I learned that two decades ago, when I visited Buchenwald, site of one of the infamous Nazi concentration camps, but by no means the worst. There were hundreds of pictures on the walls documenting life in that little piece of hell on earth, one worse than the other. I am sure one of the pictures was the same as is at the top of this post, showing corpses stacked behind the camp's crematorium on the day the camp was liberated in April, 1945. But in truth, none of those horrid pictures have stuck in my mind.
What did overwhelm me, and what leaves me with chills to this day, was strolling about the camp grounds. It was dotted with the small, slightly raised plots of land, each approximately 10 feet by 15 to 25 feet, Each of these was a mass grave. To put it in perspective, each plot was about enough land, in a typical cemetery, to bury four or five people.
A plaque at each of the small plots gave the number of people buried underneath, with the numbers ranging from a low of 1,500 to a high of close to 10,000. Estimates are that 55,000 living, breathing people had come to the camp, then were tortured and executed, or died as a result of medical experimentation, or, for the vast majority, been worked and starved to death. This was all done on an industrial scale. The crime of these victims was simply their religion or nationality.
Looking at those small plots was truly overwhelming. It was evil given form and substance. To stand there was to stand in the midst of evil of such magnitude as to strain comprehension. It was to feel evil in a way that no photo or composition or film could ever duplicate.
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a Jewish day of remembrance - and given the slaughter of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis, it is appropriate. That said, it should be a world day of remembrance, not only as to the Jews. The slaughter on a grand scale we saw in Nazi Germany is, unfortunately, not unique to either the Jews or Germany, or even the 20th century. Such holocausts and genocides have occurred and will occur in the future so long as, to paraphrase Edmund Burke, good men do nothing. They go on today in Sudan and are threatened by Iran against Israel. If the Jewish Holocaust teaches us nothing, it is that we cannot allow such evil to survive in this world uncontested.
Robert Avrech's post on this remembrance day refers to The Devil's Arithmetic, a film adaptation about a modern young Jewish girl transported back to the Nazi Germany. Robert won an Emmy for the movie. He has posted part I of the movie on his site, and if you haven't seen it, let me tell you, it's riveting. Bookworm Room also has a thought provoking post on how this day impacts her.