The word “holocaust” denotatively means a destruction or consumption by fire. It came to stand in specifically for the Nazi’s machinery of the infatuation of the death of Jews, gays, gypsies, Slavs, and so forth because of the fire they used to destroy the remnants of their victims. Disease are often described as burning through a population, as being a sort of natural holocaust.
In the commemoration of the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 today, I’ve read or heard many of the victims’ survivors talking about the incomprehension of how so many people they knew could so immediately and simultaneously cease. How it shook their faith in some sort of Ultimateness. How it shook their understanding of themselves.
But this feeling has been nothing new to those gay men I know who saw everyone around them cease within a tiny bit of time. And it’s nothing new to those Jewish people who lived through the camps. Or to the Hutus in Rwanda. Or to countless others.
I’m not trying to downplay the very real wounds of that day five years ago. I, like everyone, can never forget that day: the images, the looks on faces, the phone calls from all over the world, the weeping student of mine whose father died.
I cannot make sense of this, and I don’t expect to be able to understand it rationally. But even so, we have to understand it in some fashion, so as to know when the evil of holocausts rises within each of us, overtaking us, and living on its own.
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