I had the immense privilege of spending the last weekend visiting and having an amazing time in Krakow. However, in light of the devastating tragedy in Las Vegas, it feels a bit inappropriate to talk about how much fun I had. But my weekend getaway was not all fun and games, and I believe that learning about Krakow’s history has done a lot to help me conceptualize things that are happening today.
Krakow is home to two very important historical sites: Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, both of which I had the opportunity to visit when I was there. Needless to say, they were each very powerful experiences, however, what really struck me was contextualizing the past with the current state of affairs.
Our tour guide at Auschwitz put it very eloquently: humanity has been killing each other since the beginning of our existence. This is nothing new. However, the Holocaust was something entirely unprecedented. With the Holocaust came an entire bureaucratic and institutional structure that was created for one goal: the extermination of an entire ethnic group. Genocide is an evil born of modernity.
That’s a word I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: evil. Generally, my personal philosophy can be categorized under the broad umbrella of moral relativism. That said, I do believe there are instances that an overwhelming majority of people can agree to as morally repugnant and evil. The Holocaust and yesterday’s shooting in Las Vegas fall under that category, I believe.
There is so much that can and needs to be said about the shooting in Las Vegas. As someone that is neither from the city, nor from Nevada, I do not believe it’s in my place to try and articulate the collective grief and heartache that we all feel. I believe that is best left to the voices of those that have a sincere connection to that place and community, and to the victims. What I can talk about, perhaps really the only thing I know how to talk about, is action.
When faced with such an overwhelming act of barbarism and cruelty, one in which a single person rained hell down upon a group of innocent people for literally no apparent reason, it’s easy to feel helpless, that nothing can be done. This isn’t even the only horrible problem we face today. Right now, millions of Puerto Ricans are still suffering without access to basic necessities (click here for different ways you can help). And as I walked through both Oskar Schindler’s factory and Auschwitz, it terrified me to think that we’ve regressed to the point where white nationalist and neo-Nazi sentiments can be freely expressed in the United States.
However, we cannot let fear lead us to inaction. Stephen Colbert eloquently stated that “doing nothing is cowardice.” This reminds me of another quote by Edmund Burke, which I’m sure most of you know, but I believe bears repeating: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” But as I tie the history of the Holocaust and WWII to the present day, I am also reminded of the fact that we were ultimately able to defeat fascism. In hindsight, these outcomes always seem preordained, when at the time, the exact opposite was true; for some time, Hitler seemed poised to conquer all of Europe. Despite the initial odds, we continued to fight because that is simply a reality that we could not accept. It is vital that we cling to that notion as we confront the evils of today.
It’s easy to believe that solving the issue of gun violence is a pipe dream. But shedding that cynicism and fear is the first crucial step needed to shift the conversation from if to how we can begin to reduce the amount of gun violence that exists in the United States. Gun control regulations are simply one piece of the puzzle, but we can only begin to think about what other pieces are needed if we believe the outcome is achievable in the first place. The NRA wants us to believe that daily mass shootings are simply the reality of living in a free society. That is a reality that I refuse to accept. And there are a number of great organizations like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, The Brady Campaign, and Americans for Responsible Solutions that are on the long and difficult path of working to ensure that fewer Americans die from senseless gun violence. If you also believe that America should not be a country where tens of thousands of people die each year from firearms, then now is the time to take a stand. Remember the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
For this post, I’m only including the photos I took from Auschwitz-Birkenau. For all of my photos in Krakow, check out my Flickr page.