Saturday, September 25, 2010

Never Forget ....

The words below are not well organized or planned out. They are merely my thoughts thrown onto a screen. An outlet after reading about such grief. A reminder to me of resiliency and life, of humility and grace.
I recently finished reading Escape into Darkness by Sonia Games and Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz by Rena Gelissen, and as usual, I'm moved emotionally to a place I never thought I could go. It's not that I haven't emotionally been in this place before. It is instead, just incredible to me how their stories, the stories of the most resilient people I've ever heard of, can continue to transform my life and remind me of the condition of the human spirit and how thankful I am that I have grown up without being directly touched by such horror in my own life.

I suppose though that what amazes me the most is that there are so many people...educated and well read individuals...who firmly believe that the Holocaust never happened. It's not that they all believe that Jews, homosexuals, mentally and physically ill individuals, children, etc., weren't killed. They do admit this, yet they believe that "only a few thousand" (if there could ever be such a thing as "only a few" when talking about murder) were killed and that they were not killed in a systematic and planned way by the Nazis. There are schools in the UK, Africa, Germany and yes, even the United States, that no longer teach the history of the Holocaust. How can this happen!? Why are we as a nation, as parents, as educators, not causing more of an outcry about this tragedy? There is fear that teaching on such a horrific topic will disturb children or "offend" those who don't believe it ever happened. When did our world, our country, become some worried about "offending" other people that we as humanity have stopped talking about one of the most horrific periods of time in the last 100 years?
I completely understand that parents and educators do not want to traumatize children with stories of the Holocaust, but as all educators and parents understand, there is a way of explaining things to a child without showing pictures or being graphic. Yet you can still explain to them the significance of what happened and WHY it happened.

Since I was a child I've been what you might call obsessed with the Holocaust and stories of Holocaust survivors. Each time I read their stories, and believe me when I say that I've read hundreds, I can't help but be moved to a place of sadness, grief, anger, and even humility. How incredible that people, even children, could endure and survive without being filled with overwhelming degrees of hate for their offenders. My heart breaks for each of these people, their families, even their pets, who were simply discarded as if they were lower than rotten garbage, thrown into cattle cars for deportation to death camps or simply shot in the streets. I’ve always kind of laughed at the “mom comment” of “people are starving around the world, so you should be grateful for the food you have and eat it” when a child refuses to eat dinner or wants to throw away food. I’ve laughed because I know that my not eating the food in front of me is no sooner going to provide food for the starving in Africa than a student not studying in England is going to make me pass or fail my own school test. Yet each time I read a survivor’s story I am humbled and reminded that no, my eating my food won’t help the starving, but I have a duty and a responsibility to be grateful for the provisions I have and not be wasteful. Rena Gelissen speaks often in her book about the food she and her sister were given, usually a weak version of tea for breakfast, a small ladle of watery broth at lunch, and a small crust of “sawdust-like” bread for dinner. This food was to sustain them for their years in captivity which ultimately led to the risking of their lives to find potato peels, lemon rinds, or anything else edible in Auschwitz that could keep them alive.
As I sat tonight at dinner with my husband with an abundance of food before us, I had to stop a moment and remember how blessed I am to have this before me. It’s so easy to take for granted the abundance I’ve been blessed with.

I suppose there is so much more I could say about this subject, yet I know that I’m merely rambling and will soon be chasing my own tail in this post. I want to meet them. I want to meet the remaining survivors and thank them. But thank them for what? For doing everything they knew how to do so that they could merely survive from day to day in the most hellish environment imaginable? Should I thank them for being so courageous to share their stories? Or should I thank them for finding the grace to forgive or at least not harbor hate towards those that treated them so horribly? I don’t know. I fear that nothing I could say or do for them could ever be enough.

Perhaps the best I can do for them is simply to never forget them. Never forget their sacrifice. I will use their stories to further propel me to help other torture survivors. I will always remember their faces, their names, the small details of their lives and the lives of those who did not survive. It is through remembering that we give honor to their lives and perhaps it is through never forgetting the past, as George Santayana said, that we should hopefully never repeat it.
Some of the most memorable books I’ve read about the Holocaust, if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Holocaust or simply putting a name and face to one or two of the millions who perished.

Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz – Rena Kornreich Gelissen
Escape into Darkness – Sonia Games
Night – Elie Wiesel
In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer - Irene Opdyke
I Have Lived A Thousand Years: Growing Up In The Holocaust - Livia Bitton Jackson
All But My Life - Gerda Weissmann Klein


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