The late Bill Perks was as stoic as they came. It was a stoicism no doubt forged by growing up poor in the Depression and from serving in World War II.
I got to know Bill when we were ushers at King Hill Baptist Church several years ago. From our long conversations in the church foyer before services, I came to admire his even-tempered, common-sense look at life.
I never saw that stoicism waver except once. It was while visiting Bill on the front porch of the South Side home he shared with his wife, Dottie. With a glass of sweet tea, I listened to him speak about his experiences in the war.
When he got to the part about seeing the prisoners in the death camps, Bill’s unflappability broke down.
“I don’t see how another human being could do that to another human being,” he sobbed as he described the stench of death and the sight of walking skeletons.
A few years ago, I visited a civil rights museum in Kansas City operated by a Dr. Shapiro. In the museum he had many photos of Holocaust victims and the death camps. The photos haunted me for a long time in their starkness and graphic detail. It pained Shapiro greatly when he talked about the stories behind some or the photos.
I’m reminded of all this because this past Monday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The remembrance commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War and the genocide that resulted in the death of 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime.
On Jan. 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army.
Today in a festering climate of racial intolerance and xenophobia, Holocaust denial thrives. While considered a serious societal problem, Holocaust denial is illegal in several European countries and Israel.
Deniers claim that Nazi Germany’s final solution was only aimed at deporting Jews, not their extermination. Supposedly Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas chambers for the genocidal mass murder of Jews, they say.
Deniers also claim that the Holocaust is a hoax hatched from a Jewish conspiracy designed to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of other people.
It totally surprises me how this sentiment thrives today, this hatred of people different from us and the vilification of them.
When you point this out to the perpetrators, they try to twist it around on you as if you’re the racist. If you experience any racism and speak of it, you’re wanting a handout is how it’s looked at by some.
So are we supposed to turn our heads and deny the growth of Neo-Nazism when it’s there in plain sight with terror attacks and racist rhetoric ? It’s a form of gaslighting when we’re told racism is just our imagination when we know better.
We’re in America. We fought against this hatred abroad, and we need to fight it at home when it rears its ugly head here as well.
Fighting inequality is what will make us great.