Lest we forget- A Holocaust tale and a lesson for India

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Jerusalem, Aug.8 (ANI): It wasn't a museum that I wanted to visit. I knew it would be gut wrenching, and it was.

The holocaust museum in downtown Jerusalem is a stark prism shaped building that documents the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people so that future generations may never forget.

Even before I stepped into the museum, the thought that plagued my mind was that why don't we have a similar museum in India - one that chronicles the trauma of partition?

There is no museum, no memorial that documents the horrors of a partition that led to the largest ever displacement of human population in history.

Those who witnessed the partition of India are now in their seventies and eighties. There are books and video testimonials in private collections and libraries, but they haven't been placed under one roof so that generations may visit and understand the price the country has had to pay to be free and independent.

Perhaps, if they did then, many of today's editorials and op-ed columns recommending, "give up Kashmir" or "forget the past" would not appear.

Forgiving is a different matter. Forgetting is not the wisest of things to do, for as poet and philosopher George Santayana said: Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."

The Yad Vashem Museum is a project that began in 1953, and, in it's nine galleries, are stories of the Jewish community from before World War-II to persecution by Nazis, life in the ghettos, the holocaust and the genocide.

There are pictures and testimonials that can reduce the most stoic to tears.

Pictures of families enjoying a picnic one day and gassed to death the next. Shooting at point blank range of dozens of people. Why does it send a chill down your spine when you look at these testimonials?

It's not just because it was a barbaric act in history. Not just because it's the chronicling of a genocide. It's also because in the recesses of your mind, you remember horror stories told to you by your grandparents of the partitioning of India, of 1947, of trains carrying people of one community, set on fire by another, of beheading of people of another community, rape and murder.

Shlomo Balsam, an educator at the Yad Vashem Museum, whose father was killed in the holocaust, says the Jewish community worldwide will never work towards a closure.

The attempted extermination of their race is a part of their history and their present. It determines who they are as a people and their determination to not let the world forget what they went through. There were six million Jewish victims. The seventh million will not let their memory fade. That is the determination.

Cut back to India. It is 63 years since partition. 14 to 18 million people were displaced in 1947. It was the bloodiest religious and ethnic cleansing in history, and yet, we don't have a single museum documenting that part of our history.

Not one memorial for those who died in that traumatic incident in our recent past. There is a small 'Museum of Peace' at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan in Amritsar. There are some virtual memorials on facebook but none of the stature of the holocaust museums around the world.

There have been calls for a joint India-Pakistan partition museum, as many partition victims say that the stories they remember are similar. But that time has passed. The narratives have changed. Pakistan should build its own and India its own memorial.

The last room in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial is a Hall of Names that contains over three million names of Holocaust victims that were submitted by their families and relatives.

Names can still be submitted by visitors to the memorial and added to the computerized archive. Do we have even one such archive?

Even in the National Museum, there is no room of this stature. Most Punjabi and Bengali families have partition survivors in their families. They have heard what it meant to leave home and hearth, lose families and witness untold horrors. But there is no place they can keep these documents other than in their private collection and collective memories.

We as a nation do not value or cherish or learn from our recent past. While we glorify our medieval and ancient history, our more recent past is something we have ignored.

Please note: The views expressed in the above article are the author's own. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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