On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was drafted to serve as a standard for human rights throughout the world, those being things like the right to life, the right to education, the right to work, and the right to peaceful assembly. The document also sets out freedom of expression, freedom of religion, injunctions against torture and inhumane punishment, the recognition that all humans are born with dignity, and right of humans to live in a peaceful environment.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was borne out of a response to some of most blatant human rights violations that took place during World War II. The most obvious atrocities were committed as part of the Holocaust, the Nazis' plan to eliminate and enslave millions of people because of their nationality and create a new Europe. The Nazis killed over six million people during the war, the majority of them Jews. I was able to get an idea of the horrors of the Holocaust while visiting Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, in Poland. That trip had a profound effect on me and has opened my eyes to why we need to advocate for human rights everywhere.
I took a tour of Auschwitz in 2004 while visiting Krakow, Poland. The tour started with Auschwitz I, which was used to hold Polish POWs but today the camp is now a museum about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. What I remember most vividly about that place is the piles of stuff from Auschwitz victims: shoes, luggage, plates and cups, prosthetic limbs, glasses, and human hair. The next stop on the tour was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was the death camp where Jews were sent to be gassed to death and then cremated.
This part was the hardest for me to take in. I remember seeing the toilets, where people slept, and, of course, the gas chambers. There is not much of the gas chambers because the Nazis tried to blow them up before the Russian advance into the area. However, what got me is that there are still thousands of little pieces of bones on the ground that came out of the ashes from the crematoria. There was so many that I couldn't keep myself from stepping on them.
My experience at Auschwitz ignited a desire in me to see that people never have to go through that again. That is why human rights are so important. If every person and every country recognized the dignity, worth, and value of human beings everywhere, the world would be a much different place.