Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holocaust story--The Challenge of a Weeping Willow

Holocaust Days of Remembrance begin May 1 throughout the nation. It is a time for remembering the genocide of 6 million Jews by the Nazis in World War II. This is a time for all of us to stop and ponder what hatred can do anywhere if left unchallenged.

If you travel to Dohany Street in Budapest, Hungary you will come to the Central Synagogue. In the courtyard behind that house of worship you will walk into the Synagogue’s Garden of Remembrance. It honors the memory of over 550,000 Hungarian Jews that were sent to various death camps by the Nazis. At the beginning of the war there were 8825,000 Jews living in Hungary. Only less than one-tenth of those remain today.

In the center of that Memorial Garden is a powerful monument. You will find a huge silver weeping willow tree. The memorial honors those 550,000 Hungarian Jews who died in the Shoah. The tree was designed by the artist Imre Varga. From the base of the monument eight branches emerge. On each branch are tiny leaves. On each leaf are the names of many of the Jewish families that were murdered. The inscription underneath reads: “Whose agony is greater than mine.”

Hungarian Jews had been part of that country and its culture for hundreds of years. Yet—as hatred and prejudice began to spread throughout Hungary the Jews were surprised to see their neighbors and governmental officials turn their backs on them.

What are the lessons for us, after all these years? The first lesson is that we cannot forget. Those who died in vain should never be forgotten. The next lesson is that hatred and prejudice in any form should never go unchecked. We live in a strange time. People are scared. The economy is up and mostly down. Jobs are scarce and many are fearful about the future. Lour politicians cannot seem to agree on any positive way forward. In a shaky time many people show their teeth.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the hate groups in this country are at an all-time high. The death threats on our first black President are far more than any other President in our history. The ugly lies that he is not like us, that he is not a real American, that he is not a Christian and that he is a closet Muslim go on and on. We have been here before. Remember the terrible hatred directed against Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy Bill Clinton and many other Presidents. How must black folk feel today as they hear these unending prejudicial remarks made about Mr. Obama? We must not let these ugly voices go unchallenged.

But there are further lessons. In every age there seems to be some group that we handpick for scapegoating. Take immigrants, especially Hispanics. Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee have all jumped on the bandwagon to stop “reasonably suspicious looking people” and ask for their papers. Those behind the laws say there will be no racial profiling. Think how all those Hispanics must feel as they drive to work wondering if they will be stopped and wondering if they are safe. State Representative John Yates of Georgia has said the threat of illegal immigrants is so great that border agents should be allowed to “Shoot to kill.” State Representative Curry Todd of Tennessee has compared pregnant illegal to multiplying rats. But it isn’t only immigrants that are under siege. One Virginia Republican Chairman was forced to resign after he sent out a tongue-in-cheek email talking about someone taking his dog to the welfare office. It went on: “My dog is black, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and has no clue who his Daddy is.” One North Carolina State representative has suggested cutting off financing used to treat people with HIV and AIDS because “they are living a perverted lifestyle” How far this is from the American dream.

Elie Wiesel lost his whole family in the Holocaust. He has said there is no such thing as illegal immigrants. He reminds us that when we use that term it is the first step to the gas chambers. No one, he says, is illegal. His circle would certainly include Muslims, gays, the poor, blacks, and anybody who does not look particularly like us.

It’s Holocaust Remembrance Time. It is a moment for real Americans to say we and us loud and clear. It is high time we put them and they on the back burner. The American dream was a place where all could find safety and freedom. The old dream was a place where “we could all sit under our own fig trees and none would be frightened and none would be afraid.”

Remember the Weeping Willow. In our time we do not need to add new leaves to that sad and sorrowful tree. It may take decades for us to really say all but that is the challenge of the weeping willow and Holocaust Week. This is a time not only to remember then but also to ponder here and now.

(The picture above is from the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague that dates back to 1439. Over 100,000 Jews have been buried there and there are hundreds of tombstones in this place of remembrance.)

1 comment:

  1. I have lived and ministered through the pain of South Africa and your words touch a deep cord in me. Thank you.