Editorial: We cannot remain silent on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Friday, Jan. 27, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Reading about events worldwide, but particularly those held at the former Auschwitz death camp in Poland, we were reminded of Werner Reich. 

Mr. Reich was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1927. In 2020, he spoke at Cutchogue Presbyterian Church on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp complex, where he had been sent as a teenager.

He spoke about the three days he spent packed in a cattle car en route to Poland from a camp in Czechoslovakia, and about 1945, when the Russian army approached the camp and he began his march to the west and freedom. Somehow, hearing his story that day in the church, it seemed impossible that this teenage boy could have survived.

But he did, and at age 92, he drove to Cutchogue from his home in Smithtown to speak about his experiences — and what the Holocaust should tell us today.

He remembered “screaming and crying as people were led off to the gas chambers — men, women and little children.” Asked the impossible question about inhumanity on this massive scale — “How could this have happened?” — he said, “Because the majority were silent. We cannot remain silent.”

Therein was Mr. Reich’s main theme. And it applies to all of us now.

In America — and around the world — hatred and extreme violence are now a matter of course. In Ukraine, slaughter and destruction continue with no end in sight. Entire cities have been leveled. The Ukrainian community on the North Fork watches the horror unfold and calls loved ones to make sure they are safe.

In America, mass slayings are reported almost daily on the news. We’ve become numb to them — or just silent. Last year, there were 648 mass shootings in America, according to the Gun Violence Archive. There were 692 in 2021. So far this year, in a little over a month, there have been 40 nationwide.

To Mr. Reich’s point, remaining silent in the face of such horror is not an option. Silence is the ultimate cover-up. Silence is un-American. Sitting back, staring at your cellphone for hours each day, willfully ignoring our history, won’t help America be the country it has always aspired to be.

Why aren’t Americans screaming from the rooftops for something to be done to stop this madness? The Second Amendment was written when people carried muskets for safety on the frontier and hunting for food; the Founding Fathers did not envision an AR-15 with an oversized magazine bought by an average Joe who spends part of the day in the dark corners of the internet digesting conspiracy theories. 

Times Review Media Group recently celebrated our People of the Year award-winners. They are local men and women who have made a difference in our communities — who get up each morning and work hard, who make other people’s lives better.

For some of them, such as the Rev. Bohdan Hedz of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead, remaining silent in the face of atrocities is not an option. We applaud these folks. They speak out when they should. When they see a problem, they work to correct it. Committed people are the difference between light and darkness, between lies and truth. 

In America in 2023, remaining silent is unacceptable and is not in the interests of a healthy democracy. 

Mr. Reich died July 8, 2022, at the age of 94, and for most of those years, he could look down at his left forearm and see a tattooed number: A1828. That’s what silence did to him.

As we begin a new year, still watching the daily crisis in our nation’s thoroughly broken political system, let’s take a lesson from a Holocaust survivor: Silence is not an option.