Friday, April 20, 2012

Holocaust--Let Us Remember

Something inescapable is lost--
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone--
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past--
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
and finally has swept into a corner where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.
Michael R. Burch, "Something" for the children of the holocaust

Yesterday was a Day of Remembrance for the Holocaust victims. The old book of Deuteronomy tells us: "Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, Lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, And lest they depart from your hearts all the days of your life; Make them known to your children and your children's children." (Deuteronomy 4.9) Let's remember the over six million who died at the hands of the Nazis. It was not only Jews that perished but also all the others that were deemed "inferior" by the Third Reich. That sad list included Roma Gypsies, Poles, Slavs, Russians, homosexuals, and people with physical and mental handicaps. 

After all these years it is still hard to believe the depths of evil that so many people in Germany endured. In the prison camp in Teresin 200,000 people were put to death. Of that number 15,000 were children. Records show that only 132 children survived in that camp.

After those few that were finally liberated little scraps of poems and letters were found stuffed in mattresses and cracks in the walls. Fanta Bass left these words as her last will and testament.

"A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses
The path is narrow
And the little boy walks alone it.

A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more."

In 2011 a book came out  that deals with early days when Hitler was just beginning to come into power. In the Garden of  Beasts, Erik Larson tells the true story that in 1933 William E. Dodd was appointed the first ambassador to Hitler's Germany. Dodd was a mild-mannered professor from Chicago. And he and his wife and son and daughter moved to Berlin. With alarm Dodd watched as Jews were attacked, the press censored and frightening new laws began to circulate. The book traces the steps that ended with the Holocaust. I recommend this volume to anyone who would like to ponder the seeds from which this terrible chapter of our history took place. One of the most disturbing part of the book tells of the antisemitism of many in our government and the refusal of so many important persons to believe the dark memos that Dodd continually sent back home. This is an important book and it helped me to see that evil does not come to any of us full blown but comes slowly always bringing destruction.

In some ways we have not come very far in justice and compassion. The recent stories of American troops urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans was disturbing. Then came the story of the Marine who killed 16 or more people in a blood-bath which included women and old people and children. We still call so many groups "they." Sometimes inferior, always different--our record with immigrants, especially Hispanics, school bullies and those who still consider homosexuals flawed creatures not to mention the brutality that many of those we deem terrorists have experienced from our government.

 Just today I saw a bumper sticker that read: "Honk if you hate Obama." Not if you don't agree or don't like--but hate. What is wrong with so many of our people? Recently Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Illinois chastised politicians who disagree with the bishop's views on health care reform. His word culminated in the outrageous claim that "Barack Obama seems intent on following a similar path" to Hitler and Stalin who "would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open". There has always been a deep strand of wild rhetoric and outright hate in this country--but you would have thought after all these years we would have learned something.

So on this Holocaust week-end ponder where we have been and where we are. Looks like we still have some homework to do.

(The photograph above shows the moving tribute that an artist has constructed in the Memorial Garden in Budapest to honor the 550,000 Hungarian Jews that died in the Holocaust. The Weeping Willow tree is metal and eight branches emerge from the base of the tree. On each branch are tiny leaves that bear the names of Jewish families that were murdered during those dark days.)

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