While history may feel like the distant past (and something you may think you don’t need to know much about outside the classroom), many experts believe it can offer valuable lessons for today.
In the case of World War II, author Kim Dana Kupperman says the stories that came out of this dark time in history can help us gain a new perspective on today’s global refugee crisis, be better prepared to see the warning signs of totalitarianism and genocide, and examine the best and worst of human proclivities.
Her new novel, “Six Thousand Miles to Home,” was inspired by the true story of a Jewish family from western Poland during one of World War II’s lesser-known episodes, the imprisonment of 1.5-2 million Polish citizens in the Soviet Union’s infamous Gulag. The novel details a family’s enslavement in a forced-labor camp, and their eventual escape to Iran where they found refuge.
“I feel a generational responsibility to help preserve the memory of what happened during World War II. Because so many died without their stories being told or collected, we must try to imagine how they lived and how they perished,” says Kupperman. “Such narratives and personal stories build empathy for those of us fortunate to be remote from these experiences. They also remind us that genocide is a persistent phenomenon, and that by not acting, we are complicit.”
Starvation, disease, and hard labor in adverse environmental conditions combined to make the Gulag a ruthless environment in which people perished by the thousands. Despite the horrors of this history, accounts of Soviet deportations and enslavement of Polish citizens are largely absent from the literature of the Holocaust. As those who lived through it grow older, historians say that the time for collecting and understanding these stories is now.
Kupperman draws parallels between the historical events detailed in her novel to today’s global refugee crisis. As a result of World War II, tens of millions of people were displaced, an amount of people which seemed staggering at the time. In 2016, an estimated 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, or violence, according to the UN, amounting to 20 people every minute. Understanding history can change perceptions about today’s refugees and encourage individuals to help, whether it’s by providing shelter, volunteering time, or donating resources.
Proceeds from sales of Kupperman’s book will support The Suzanna Cohen Legacy Foundation and its mission to collect, preserve, publish, and teach the life stories of men and women who exhibited resilience in the face of forced displacement, and to honor the bravery and generosity of those who provided compassion and assistance to refugees, exiles and persecuted peoples. To learn more, visit suzannacohenlegacyfoundation.org.
While learning about historical atrocities can be uncomfortable and disturbing, doing so can ultimately help one become a better citizen of the world today.
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