Today, January 27th, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. I will admit that I did not know this on my own, but was reminded by a poem shared by Merril D Smith, called, Light a Candle (Again).
The image of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany (cover photo) is a place of contemplation, a place of remembrance and warning. It is close to the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin. If you understand what it represents, it can be haunting. If not, it seems almost restful. This is not the image I have in my mind when I think of the Holocaust. I started reading about it from a very early age. I was only in Junior high when I started reading about the Holocaust.
I had read other books by Leon Uris, an Englishman, who also wrote Trinity, about the plight of the Irish, and Exodus, about the Jews reclaiming their homeland. He is a powerful writer, who will bring you to heights of delight, and then stomp your heart into the ground. The highs and lows of his writing, the depths of depression his stories would drag me through, were suited to my own highs and lows and swinging emotions of my teenage years.
Then I read QBVII – the story of two men, one a doctor and one a journalist. The first section you fall in love with this doctor and the clinic he is starting in South America – his heart and love for his patients and family. The second section you fall in love with an idealistic journalist and his passion for uncovering truth. At the very end of the second section – before the third and final section of the book – which takes up half the book – you realize that the person the journalist is investigating for war crimes is the doctor that you love. How could this be? The whole last half of the book is set at the Nuremburg trials. Somehow, in junior high, I read through the grueling testimonies of patients who had been experimented on in the death camps. I cried my way through these stories and atrocities, and my world was changed forever.
I have always known about the possibility for man’s inhumanity to man. We can be brutal beasts. I have also always been a poet, desperately seeking the beauty in places where there is none: flowers blooming up through the most inhospitable soil, concrete. In the depths of depravity, there were stories of those caring for one another in the camps. In Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, he tells the story of a forced march through snow and storm, and the inmates and prisoners being starved and terrified. They stop for the night in a barn for shelter, and one of the men pulls out a violin he has somehow, against all odds, been able to hide and carry with him. He serenades his fellow prisoners until they all fall asleep. In the morning, he is dead. With his last ounce of energy, he sought to care for, comfort, and love his fellow man. These stories, the ones of greatness in the midst of brutality, are the ones that keep my heart whole.
Today, we have so many people who do not know, who do not remember, who are walking directly in the path of creating the same sorts of atrocities. Hatred begets these miseries. Love may not save us entirely, but it is the only path I want to take. Understanding, remembrance, knowledge of the things that have gone on before – these things are important.
Sadly, in a horrifying development, a Tennessee school board has just banned the teaching of a Pulitzer prize-winning Holocaust graphic novel, Maus. News of this is just circulating today of all days.
I am reading out loud with my son, some very difficult reading, but important and necessary. We are starting with The Freedom Writers, about young people who know nothing of the Holocaust until their young teacher changes her whole curriculum to educate them on the ways of hatred and the ways of love. They change their world as they learn about Anne Frank and others who lived through this time. They see their own worlds, in tough neighborhoods with drive-by shootings, as places where hate is fostered, and they learn to rise above their environments. I want my son to know this is possible.
Today, in whatever manner you can, whether by lighting a candle, or holding a place for silent reverence in your heart as you remember the ones who were lost, whose very lives were seen as toxic and worthy of extinction, please do what you can to Remember! Do what you can to bring love and light into the world.
Cover photo by Giulia Gasperini from Unsplash – of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany