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Syria: a modern holocaust right next door


There are moments in life when you see something and you become certain your life won’t be the same anymore. You feel helpless in the face of great injustices and this feeling cripples you. Visiting the actual site of complete horror during my trip to Poland was one of them.

There is nothing that can simply prepare you for visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp, a place where 1.1 million people lost their lives in the most gruesome way possible. You would think that reading about it and watching videos is the same as being there, but it is not. Nothing prepares you to accept that humanity has this level of cruelty and that those who committed those crimes were once walking among us, had families, led normal lives, and cared about their children. It is hard to imagine them as humans because what kind of human would cause this level of suffering?

The sign at the end of the tour says: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity…” that is intended for us so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. So no more innocent lives are wasted, so not another million people lose their lives, futures, hopes, and dreams, and so other millions of families are not  torn apart, scattered all over the globe and can not even dare to dream of seeing each other again.

The mind always tries to protect itself and makes you want to believe that there must have been an exaggeration and this can’t be the reality. But sadly it is. It is what happened back then, and it is what is still ongoing today in Syria. This is happening now not that far from us to people not that different from us.They’re living the unimaginable and we’re not doing anything to stop it.

I was walking and observing everything as the tour guide was describing  the horrific things that happened and all I could think of was this is happening now! How can’t anyone notice that? Why are we silent? Why aren’t we flipping the earth to stop it? In my mind, I heard all of those stories in Mazen Al-Hamada’s voice and all those who are brave enough to speak up and talk about their time in prison.The things they went through, the guards, the daily routines. It was all too real for me. I was feeling this with every word she was saying!

Thinking of all the people still in that limbo, not knowing if they will live to see another day or not and if today will be their last in these slaughterhouses. The routines are the same, the design of the place is the same, the methods are the same and it is even more horrific because we know what happened before! We’ve been warned, we’ve got thousands of opportunities to stop it but the world is choosing not to.

While the world was chasing, prosecuting, and imprisoning the Nazi criminals, they were being welcomed in Syria. They were even celebrated, protected, given the highest ranks in the intelligence, and treated like royalty.So the circle of horror continued but this time, they have the experience, they have the knowledge, and they are improving.

The tour takes you room by room in a failed attempt to try and grasp the immense extent of the situation, because words can’t simply describe the deafening silence, and breathing that air adds to that heavy feeling you get once you step inside.

The entry sign says “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (work makes you free) as a lie that working hard would set the prisoners free.This level of psychological torture reminded me of the Tadamon massacre when they lied to the blindfolded victims and told them to run, only to be shot, thrown in a pit, and set on fire just like how the Nazis would kill the Jews.

One room was filled with pictures of children, which took me back to pictures of the early days of the beautiful Syrian revolution and the children who died in Daraa. Another room filled with medical experiments was a reminder of hospital 601 and what the so-called doctors did there. The room with all the pills that they used to gas all those victims reminded me of the sarin chemicals attacks on Ghouta in 2013. The children’s pictures, when they were arrested, reminded me of Hamza El Khatib and the thousands of Syrian children still in underground dungeons. The beds reminded me that they don’t have any now and they sleep sitting down.

The timed showers and the techniques are all the same: to strip away their humanity.The pictures of the families on the loading docks before they were taken inside are the same as the hundreds of thousands of families in Syria that had to flee this horrendous situation only to face a world that is turning a blind eye towards them.

By the end of the tour, the guide concluded that the officer who was responsible for all of these deaths had lived meters away from the camp with his family and when the camp was liberated, he was later executed there in the same place where he committed those crimes. Will we ever see the day when justice is served in Syria? When will mothers feel a tiny bit of their heartache gone because those who tortured and killed their kids got their reparations? A whole generation lost their past and history and was forced to flee across the globe. Will they see the criminals prosecuted and held accountable? Will the day come when people recognize the atrocities that were happening and actually talk about them, make movies, and pledge to never let it happen again?

I wish there comes the day when we actually learn from our mistakes because history does repeat itself and we’re always bystanders. We need to act and we need to act now to save the hundreds of thousands whose families are oblivious of their fate, to save those who die without anyone knowing anything about them, to save the future of the younger generation who did nothing wrong except that they dared to hope for a better future, to honor the grandparents who were forced to watch their home country burn to the ground and couldn’t do anything. For the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons, we owe it to them to do something to help stop those atrocities and to be a voice to the millions with no voice, and to help reunite the millions of families that were forced to flee and leave their homes, belongings, history, pets, and whole lives behind. What would we be if we didn’t stand with them?

I am not Syrian but my grandmother was. Although she wasn’t born in Syria and had never visited, she always made sure we are connected to and proud of that part of our heritage. I have a duty to help, support, and protect her people, our people.

I know that I am privileged. I have a safe home, a caring family, financial means, a great job, and a lovely life. So, giving back to those who lost everything, is an honor. I try to educate my friends and others on social media, to spread awareness so people know what is happening in Syria now. It brings me pure joy when someone asks me about what I share on social media, try to understand, and later find that they share the same things. If we, the ordinary people, don’t come together to change what is happening, then the Syrian people don’t stand a chance. We should each look for how to help, that is the one thing we can do to not normalize the atrocities happening in Syria right now.

It has been 12 years since the beautiful,  honorable, and peaceful revolution started. Today, over 500,000 people have been killed, 7 million people have been forced to flee the country, more than 7 million people are internally displaced, and 150,000 have been forcibly disappeared. Eighty percent of those who are living in Syria are under poverty lines, thousands have been gassed with chemical weapons, and countless homes, schools, hospitals have been bombed ruthlessly. And what have we done? Nothing, the world turned on Russia when it invaded Ukraine, but this same world stood and watched millions of Syrians suffer boundlessly.

I will leave you with my favorite quote that Alaa Abdel Fattah, an Egyptian activist and political prisoner said: “All we need to do is to stand up for what is right. We don’t necessarily need to stand victorious, to be strong, or even to be ready. We might be without a decent plan and we might lack organization. But the only thing we really need to do is to keep standing for what is right.”

There are many things you can do to impact the lives of the beautiful brave strong Syrian people: talk about it in your school, contact your representatives to change the policies and stop this regime, organize an event to introduce Syria to your friends, write an article, make a video, donate to organizations working on the ground, and simply send a letter of hope to kids in a kindergarten in North Syria.

This Giving Tuesday, please consider donating to SETF ❤️