Lest we forget

History taught us a lesson that needs to be retaught

A couple of years ago, I spent a series of afternoons interviewing a man who has known more horror than most people will ever know. His name is Lubertus Schapelhouman, and he’s one of a rapidly disappearing number of eyewitnesses to the Nazi death camps, a man who survived the Holocaust that took the lives of more than 6 million Jews and uncounted numbers of other people swept up in the German extermination machine of the 1940s.

Not only are those survivors disappearing, but so are those who remember that great conflagration. As the world’s population grows younger each day, and as the human propensity for forgetting the past continues apace, there is a danger that the hard-bought lessons of the 20th century’s greatest nightmare will be forgotten and, if forgotten, repeated.

A poll taken at the end of the 20th century revealed that one in three Americans couldn’t name the enemies this nation fought during the war that took the lives of many of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

But Lubertus Schapelhouman has not forgotten—nor can he ever forget—what he saw at the concentration camp known as Mauthausen in the closing months of World War II. In the piece that accompanies this, he bears witness to what can happen when we forget what the past has to teach us, and the simple lesson of our shared humanity.

I wrote about some of what Mr. Schapelhouman told me in a CN&R cover piece a year and a half ago, but that single story could not begin to contain all he had to share. And, as the world’s peoples continue to exhibit barbarism justified on the basis of ethnic and religious differences, the lessons to be gleaned from the experiences of people like Lubertus Schapelhouman are as urgent as they’ve ever been.

Maybe even more urgent.