by Monica Rey, Boston Univeristy

Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.

It is difficult to write a reflection on an exhibition of the Holocaust. What can one say?

Recently I have been thinking a lot about rhetoric.

The power of words. The absence of the acknowledgment of the power of words.

Where does the violence begin, and why is it so difficult for us in this technologically advanced age to acknowledge the insidiousness of something we all possess: words?

Right now we are caught between two worlds: the past, and the future. The Auschwitz exhibit is a physical reminder of a very visceral part of humanity’s past. And our future? It is being written as we speak. An exhibit like this begs us to ask, must we repeat the past in order to acknowledge the horrors of the present? Or does an exhibit like this continue to call us to extend ourselves in search for those suffering today, as Primo Levi said, "it can happen everywhere"? This is something that I continually struggle with. If our measure of evil is always judged against the violence of the past, I fear we will never adequately account for the forms of violence we are seeing today. Is that not what so many survivors try and point us toward? As BU Elie Wiesel Center director and Professor Michael Zank stated in a recent article, the phrase “never again” cannot just mean “never again the Holocaust.” The past does not repeat itself, but it can be investigated and learned from.” If there is one thing I learned from this particular exhibit of the Holocaust, its that violence begins in the seemingly mundane: our words about one another.

After two back to back mass shootings this weekend, I wonder:

Is Mein Kampf any different than these online white supremacist manifestos from the shooter in El Paso, who drove over 500 miles in order to murder?

What is the cost of hate speech shielded as a conservative political perspective?

What is the cost of our deliberate silences toward one another in the face of such evil?

What do we make of the uptick in attempts to sell the swastika on Etsy?

Do we just think of this as a coincidence?

Is this not the past staring us in the face?

What other enduring symbols of hate are we unwilling to acknowledge?

We cannot ignore these moments of impact any more than we can deny our ugly past and those whose stories and ends we will never hear from at Auschwitz. Denial of either ultimately leads us to repeat it. And I fear we are not very far from it at this point in American history.