What It Means to "Never Forget”

April 18, 2018

Sometimes, the world can turn on its head, and society can become a devastating place - history has shown us as much. Indeed, it can feel like tragedies are occurring faster than we can heal from them, with the constant terrorist attacks, drone strikes and mass shootings bombarding us whenever we turn on the news.


 Photo: Shokufeh Pour-Reza on Unsplash  


It’s easier to let these events blur together in our minds, but vastly more important to “never forget.”


The phrase “Never Forget” first originated in late 2001 as our nation healed from the loss of 3,000 innocent lives during the 9/11 attacks. Its message was one of hope and remembrance, providing a sense of solidarity to a grieving nation. However, the meaning of Never Forget - the concepts of conscious reflection, understanding and responsibility - is central to coping with all instances of tragedy, both now and of the past.


And today, remembrance is no less important. Just recently, the Washington Post published statistics suggesting that as time progresses, Americans are starting to forget about the Holocaust. For example, 31 percent of Americans believe that 2 million or fewer Jews were killed, although the actual number is around 6 million; furthermore, 41 percent of Americans cannot say what Auschwitz - the largest Nazi death camp in Poland - was. This unawareness, according to the Post, is “more pronounced” among Americans age 18-34: the millennial generation.


These statistics should be cause for great alarm. That’s because it is critical for Americans to remember the Holocaust, not only to grapple with the prevalence of Anti-Semitism worldwide and to honor the victims and survivors, but also to ensure that something of that scale never happens again.


Time and time again, we’ve seen Americans forgetting the horrors of the past, which leads to terrible consequences in the present day: for example, the rise of Neo-Nazis and Confederate supporters. The whitewashing of civil rights legacies. Popular history’s complete erasure of tragedies that affect non-Western countries, such as the genocides in Rwanda, Armenia and Namibia.


Today, remembrance is everything. It’s the catalyst for change. It’s the understanding that we are not just people, but members of a human race, and as such, it is our responsibility to dedicate ourselves to protecting one another and being prepared to survive under the most dangerous conditions, just like previous generations did. It is to acknowledge the bravery and spirit of leaders and changemakers before us, while taking notes that we can apply to our own lives.


But most importantly, “never forgetting” is closely followed by “always improving.” When the memorials have been built and the victims have been laid to rest, it’s important for us to learn from the mistakes from our past and strive to do better. It’s important for us to commit ourselves to the promise that the most recent disaster will be the last one. Otherwise, there is no point in remembering, because these tragedies will have occurred in vain.


That’s why it’s more important than ever to take a step back and consider the importance of honoring, memorializing and learning from our grief. If human history amounts to a journey, each generation must take a step forward, and the first part is picking ourselves up after we fall. And that means that we can never forget.


​Malavika Kannan is a sixteen-year-old Indian American, metaphor enthusiast, and history junkie. She plans to major in International Politics in order to help make the world a better place. Malavika believes in female empowerment, Kurt Vonnegut novels, and, occasionally, herself.


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