In a certain sense, humans are stupid creatures. We are well aware of the failures that exist in our collective history. But instead of learning from those mistakes, we make them again and again.
Earlier in this week, a pro-Palestinian rally in Belgium turned antisemitic. Which should be a surprise no one.
Back in November of 1961, The Twilight Zone aired an episode called Death’s-Head Revisited. The premise of the episode is as follows: a former SS officer smugly decides to visit Dachau, where he was responsible for the deaths of innocents. To say that he receives his comeuppance is an understatement.
To those who would deny the Holocaust or advocate for the murder of Jews today, I would recommend that they be dropped into Auschwitz (or any concentration camp) for the night. Let the ghosts of those murdered teach them a lesson they will never forget.
Upon entering Auschwitz, the following message greets all who walks through the gates: “Arbeit macht frei“. Translated in English to “work sets you free”, this was the lie that greeting the millions of victims who suffered and died within the camp’s borders.
I would hope (hope being the optimal word here), that an intelligent human being would hesitate to use these words, understanding their historical context. But human beings are not always known for being intelligent.
For as many Americans who are listening to the experts and staying home during the Covid-19 pandemic, there are some Americans who are protesting the stay at home orders. As an American, they have every right to protest, that is irrefutable. However, given the current circumstances, these protests come off as foolhardy and life-threatning.
In Illinois, protesters decided to personally attack Governor J.B. Pritzger for his decision to close down the state. Governor Pritzger is Jewish, his father’s side of the family immigrated from Kiev to the United States in the late 19th century. Fully aware of the Governor’s faith and family history, the language and imagery used by some of those at the protest hearkens back to Nazi Germany.
If it was just a protest of the stay at home orders, it would be one thing. It would be un-American to deny their right to tell the Governor that they disagreed with his decision. That being said, as an American citizen and a Jew, I find their choice of images and phrasing to be disturbing and disgusting.
Sometimes, surviving The Holocaust required a split-second decision in which one did not know the outcome of that decision.
The Light after the War: A Novel, was published last month. Best friends Vera and Edith survived by jumping from a cattle car headed toward Auschwitz. They spent the rest of the war hiding in a farm. Once peace is declared, both Vera and Edith know that their futures are not in Eastern Europe. They start their new lives in Naples, where Vera gets a job working for an American army officer.
Life becomes complicated when Vera falls for her employer and he for her. They are set to begin a new life as husband and wife, but then the officer disappears. So begins the multiple twists and turns that will take these women across the globe several times and expand their worlds in ways that neither had previously considered.
At the core of this book is a friendship that remains strong under circumstances that would break most friendships. As Vera and Ellen fall in love, go into the work world and expand their horizons, they continue to rely on each other. That is what makes this book great and kept me hanging on to the last page.
As I write this post, I am an ocean apart and multiple generations separated from the Holocaust. When my family, like millions of Jewish immigrants, came to this country in the years before World War II, they could have never imagined the fate of the loved ones they left behind.
Though it is nearly a century since the prisoners of the death camp were set free, it feels as potent and relevant as it did 75 years ago. Hate still flourishes. Antisemitism has once again has reared its ugly head. Humanity still has the capacity to be inhumane to our fellow mortals.
The number of survivors who are able to tell their own stories are dying out. There will come a day in which the stories of the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust will only be available via second hand or via fiction. We must hear their voices while they are still around to tell their stories. If we don’t, then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Earlier in the week, PBS aired an episode of Secrets of the Dead that focused on the fact that though the Allies knew about the death camp and were urged to bomb it, they chose not to.
What makes me angry is that the purpose of this war was to fight for democracy and human rights. And yet, when the Allies had an opportunity to make a statement about the very thing that they were fighting for, they chose not to.
I can’t help but think of the time, energy, resources, and the lives that were wasted in the Holocaust. We will never know what the victims and their forebears might have given to the world. We will also never know what those who worked in the camps might have done with their lives if they had not given into the hate and believed the lies of the Nazis.
We talk about “Never Again” and how we will never let a specific people be ostracized, traumatized and murdered. And yet, in our modern world, with all of the hate that has started to once more consume us, the message feels as important as ever.
May the memories of those who were killed within Auschwitz be a blessing and a reminder of how inhuman we can be to our fellow humans.
To say that I am a bookworm is an understatement. As you might expect, I’ve read quite a few books this year.
Without further adieu, my list of the best books of 2019 is below.
The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power: This book is #1 because it represents how far American women have come and how far we need to go before we are truly equal. In celebrating the success of these female politicians, the authors are paving the way for the next generation of women to represent their country.
In the fall of 1940, the Jews of Kippenheim were forced to leave their homes and live in a camp in France. They knew that their only way out was to emigrate. But the world was closing its door to the Jews of Europe. The odds of getting out of Europe were slim at best. No one knew what was coming, but they knew that their lives were in danger.
This book is amazing. Meticulously researched and written, the book does not read like a college textbook. Using letters, interviews and diaries, the author takes the reader on a journey that can only be described as unsettling. Reading like a novel, the author slowly reveals the fate of the book’s subjects.
Amazon, whether we like it or not, is a retail behemoth that is on track to take over the world.
Over the weekend, Amazon removed Christmas ornaments and bottle openers with images of Auschwitz from their website.
Whose bright idea was this to create and sell? More importantly, where was Amazon in reviewing the products? The company claims to have standards, but the standards seem important only after all of the negative publicity. Not before, when they could have at least given the products a once over before allowing the seller onto their site.
I don’t know what is scarier, that the products exist or that Amazon allowed them on their website in the first place? The Holocaust is not just any historical event and Auschwitz is not just any place. A little respect, especially given the historical circumstances, goes a long way.
This time of year is about family and tradition. It is not about who can buy the most presents or decorate their house so it can be seen from space. As I see it, these products and Amazon’s inability to stop them from being sold in the first place is a symbol of the wrong reasons to celebrate the holiday season.
For untold generations, women have been told that our beauty is our only asset. But during war, using our looks may mean the difference between life and death.
Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris is a follow up to her previous novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Based on a true story, Cecilia “Cilka” Klein is just sixteen when she was transported to Auschwitz from her home in Czechoslovakia. She is saved from the gas chambers by her looks and is forced to become a sexual slave. When the war is over, Cilka looks forward to freedom.
Instead, she is accused of willfully sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian work camp. The conditions in the gulag are similar to those in Auschwitz. But there is one difference: the kindness of a female doctor. This doctor gives Cilka the opportunity to work in the camp hospital. This job helps to bring Cilka back to life and show her that love is still possible.
When we talk about the Holocaust and World War II, the subject of sexual assault and #Metoo is a subject that does not come up very often. But I think it is a topic that we should be discussing, especially given our current political and cultural climate.
From a very young age, women are socialized to the idea that their main asset (if not their only asset) is their beauty. But we are also penalized when we use our looks to get by. From the instant we meet her, Cilka is a character that I admired and I wanted to hug. Many would have not lasted as long as she did in the same set of circumstances. But Cilka did and for that alone, she deserves as much recognition as she can get.
Containing personal artifacts, interviews, media coverage from the day and historical timelines, this exhibit is as hard hitting, emotional and relevant as any Holocaust exhibit.
I’ve often spoken on this blog about the Holocaust. My family came from Eastern Europe and like many Eastern European Jews, there are stories of family members who survived and those who didn’t.
The artifacts are so incredibly ordinary. A pair of glasses. A variety of adult shoes. A suitcase. Those who walked through the gates of Auschwitz were not so different than you and I. But there were labelled as different, subhuman and therefore ripe for extinction.
The one artifact that stayed with me was the child’s shoe with the sock still in it. I imagine a mother undressing her child before undressing herself. She meticulously kept their clothes together thinking that they were about to enter a run of the mill “shower”. No one could have expected that the “shower” would kill them.
What the curators and the museum have done brilliantly is to make the connection between Europe before World War II and our current world. Germany was a democracy before the Nazis took power. If the democratic rule of law and acceptance of all citizens is not upheld, the slippery slope to dictatorship and murder is sharp and quick.
I’ve been to quite a few Holocaust exhibits over the years. What made this one different is the that spotlight is also on the other victims. LGBTQ and Romani (Gypsy) were just two of the groups that were tortured, starved and murdered.
If you must go to one museum and one exhibit this year, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is it. Not only do I recommend it, I would say that it should be mandatory given the world we currently live in.
I would also recommend that if you visit, you carve out 2-3 hours, as it takes that long to go through and absorb this story.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. will be open until January 3rd, 2020 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Check the website for tickets prices and exhibit details.