Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, and the death of Osama Bin Laden

I can remember last year when I was a first year med student, the missile alarms sounded at 11:00am on the dot. At first I wasn't sure what was going on, but then I realized that this is the tradition that is done every year in remembrance of the Holocaust. Soldier Remembrance day is soon after and the same custom is observed. Essentially, as soon as the alarms are sounded, the country comes to a stand still. Imagine you are on I-95, or some major highway in the states, and everyone stops their cars. This is what happens in Israel. No matter where you are, you drop what you're doing and freeze. During Soldier Remembrance Day, I was in my apartment last year, cars on the road stopped, people approached their windows and froze, it was a very somber and eerie atmosphere. The sound of the alarm adds another element. To many Israeli's this is the sound of their neighborhoods being bombed in northern or southern Israel. To me it's also a reminder that war is a very real threat to Israel. It's almost ironic that the noise used to remember the Holocaust is also used in the context of defending a country that was founded because of the Holocaust. (Below is an example of a highway coming to a stop in remembrance of the Holocaust it starts about a minute into the video).

This year, was very much the same. I was studying the hospital library and when the alarm sounded, all the doctors put down their books, stopped what they were doing, and went to the window to observe the moment of silence. This year however, we are reminded that Hitler is not the only mass murderer in history. We must not forget about the Holocaust, but we must also not forget the genocides in Darfur, Liberia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia to name a few. And also, we must not forget of the mass murder committed by Osama Bin Laden. Many would say that this event marks the martyrdom of Osama Bin Laden and this is what he wanted. Perhaps to some extremists it does, however I think ironically for the Jewish people, his death recounts the fall of another tyrant who committed murders and sends a message to the world that this will never be tolerated by civilized society.

My last article on Guantanamo Bay talked about how torture, medically speaking, does not lead to truthful, reliable confessions. It appears as though some of the information that lead to Osama Bin Laden's death was obtained at Guantanamo Bay. While these tactics may have been used, it would be interesting to find out whether these methods were the actual factors that lead to reliable information. Obviously this is all speculation, however it could be that these prisoners revealed this information prior to or independently of "enhanced techniques", and this would be interesting to find out.

Along this line of thought, my last article was the result of a lecture I attended on the medical rationale for torture. For Holocaust Remembrance the dean of our school gave a medical lecture, which involved the scientific research of Jewish doctors of the Warsaw Ghetto. What these two lectures have in common is yet another link between this holiday, and the recent days of anti-terrorism. Much of the techniques and medical data that was used in Guantanamo Bay ultimately comes from studies that would never be approved today. What occurred in the Jewish concentration camps, investigating the limits of human pain for example, are not studies that can be ethically approved today. Such data has led to medical rationale (for or against) torture.

For example, a lot of data on what happens physiologically, and biochemically to the human body under conditions of starvation came from studies done by physicians working in the Warsaw Ghetto. Jewish doctors realized that while there was nothing they could do about getting food to the people, they could still continue doing research and contribute to medicine, perhaps it was an expression of trying to bring something good to a place pervaded with evil. A common reaction to this is, how could doctors look at dying patients as subjects for research? While these people were dying, there is nothing that could be done, and in addition to doing everything they could to help these people, their motivation was to contribute to society, and such data has. It's furthered our understanding of the human body, see this article for more on these studies.

However while these physicians had altruistic intentions, the same can't be said for Nazi physicians who inflicted pain, and inhumane conditions. So the question here is, is it ethical to use this data in scientific research? This is a very complex question, however I think that if this data improves the lives of people now, then by using this data we commemorate the people who lost their lives to give it. However, I think anyone can say that the ends did not justify the means. Studies in hypothermia, for example, are attributed to Nazi experiments

If there's anything to be said about the tragedies of 9/11 or the Holocaust, it's that we will never forget what happened. America has proven that tyrants like Osama Bin Laden can no longer get away with murder. God bless the American people, and let peace prevail.


  1. My sister in law (aged 79) is the last Holocaust survivor in my family. She remembers everything but is becoming frailer and frailer.

    My fear is that when the last survivors of the Holocaust pass away from old age, there will be no living memories left. Just the stories our parents told us, history books and photos, and a few built structures (war memorials, Holocaust museums).

    As long as all citizens, especially those NOT the children of Holocaust survivors, are exposed to the taped stories told by survivors, communal memory can continue. And of course the siren and the silence are essential elements of maintaining that communal memory.

    I am very afraid the genocides in Darfur, Liberia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia will become even more invisible to subsequent generations than the Holocaust of the Jews.

  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/us/politics/04torture.html?partner=rss&emc=rss