The photos of the children haunt me day and night.
As the mother of two boys, as a longtime school administrator, as a member of the human family and now as the new president of a museum devoted to teaching children the importance of respect and acceptance of others, I am heartbroken by the young faces looking back at me.
The atrocities at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Syria where 3,500 children have been killed since March 2011, and, lest we never forget, in Nazi-occupied Europe where 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust, remind us not just of the children we have lost—but what we might have gained had they lived.
Each year, around this time, the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance pauses to remember victims of the Holocaust on the occasion of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945—68 years ago.
The Holocaust is the term used to describe the deliberate murder and desecration of millions of people prior to and during World War II in Germany and German-occupied areas in Europe.
The majority of Holocaust victims were Jewish—six million Jews were murdered—but the Roma people, Soviet civilians and prisoners of war, ethnic Poles, people with disabilities, homosexuals and political and religious opponents were also killed, more than 11 million in total. At Auschwitz-Birkenau alone, one million people died before Soviet troops liberated the camp.
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution calling for an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of victims of the Holocaust and affirmed that this indescribable tragedy serve as a warming to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.
It is the profound responsibility of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance to teach future generations of children the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help prevent future acts of genocide. History teaches us that genocide can be prevented if enough people care enough to act.
With that aim and in that spirit, an interfaith community gathered in the Memorial Room of the Dallas Holocaust Museum on Sunday, Jan. 27, to honor, remember and mourn the lives lost.
Standing in the silence, amid the tears—so fresh, still, for many Holocaust Survivors and their living family members—I reflected on what Professor Yehuda Bauer of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said in 2006: “We are all one human race—interconnected and interdependent.”
And, I thought of the children whose faces in media accounts stare back at me through precious family photographs—children like mine, like yours—and I embraced them in my heart, our children.
We can only imagine the beauty, the brilliance, the distinction that these murdered children would have brought to our world.
But as we mourn and remember murdered children, we must face this fact of humanity: the capacity for evil that allowed their lives to be extinguished is inherent in each of us and must be combatted by each of us with the desire to do what is right and good.
Our choices in response to hatred—whatever its source—truly do matter. And we must respond. We owe it to our children—those lost and those who grace our lives today.
Mary Pat Higgins is President and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance and may be reached at mphiggins@DallasHolocaustMuseum.org