Early last January without much fanfare, Miep Gies, the woman who helped Anne Frank and her family survive in the annex in Amsterdam, died at age 100. Constantly risking her own life, Gies courageously brought the Franks food, provisions and birthday gifts, and even stayed a night with them so she could better understand their suffering.
Just a day or two after her death, the world was shocked to learn about the earthquake in Haiti, and in almost a moment, responded with a sense of moral obligation that was almost unprecedented.
Given that, I have to wonder what Gies might have thought about such an outpouring. On one hand, she certainly would be happy to see humanity responding so forcefully; but on the other, disappointed perhaps, that such efforts can't be applied elsewhere when the disaster is caused by human hands.
While it's impossible -- and even not right -- to compare the suffering of one person to another, it's noteworthy to look at the numbers of people involved in two other major humanitarian issues of the past few years. Since 1994, the genocide in Darfur has killed almost twice as many as in Haiti; while the violence in the Congo has claimed more than 6 million lives since 1994 -- or that of 24 Haitian quakes.
Coincidentally, this spring marks the 65th anniversary of the U.S. and Soviet liberation of the Nazi death camps. Earlier on in the war, long before the Nazi killing machine became more deadly, the U.S. State Department looked the other way, as thousands of Jewish refugees were turned away from our shores.
In addition to anti-Semitism, the reasons at the time were the familiar ones of today, such as lack of jobs during tough economic times and the general feeling that Americans should take care of their own first. In our time, many observers shake their heads at such insensitivity, but unfortunately that same finger of judgment is now pointed at us today.
While I don't think there is an easy solution on Darfur, my hunch is that by following the example of people like Gies, we'll be pointed in the right direction. Humanity's response to Haiti shows us that a better world is possible, and our capacity to repair the world is unlimited.
Wouldn't it be nice to imagine President Obama traveling with two of our ex-presidents to a refugee camp in Chad where more than a million Darfurian refugees exist? In our better moments, our country has had such leadership, not the least of which was Jamestown's Supreme Court Judge Robert Jackson leading the trials of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg.
So write a letter; get involved; take advantage of the time we have on this Earth to in some way make it a better place. Our children, after all, will be watching.
Andrew Beiter is program director for the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies, and is on the board of the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo, as well as Buffalo for Africa.