The only way to learn from our past is to not repeat it. Sometimes, that requires reliving it, as painful as it sounds.
The 1998 documentary, The Last Days, was released on Netflix back in May. The film follows five Hungarian Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. During the last year of World War II, the Jews of Hungary were the last intact Jewish community in Europe. That would quickly change. Within six weeks, hundreds of thousands were deported to Auschwitz. Only a handful would survive. Containing interviews with survivors, a SS doctor, and American soldiers who helped to liberate Dachau, it is powerful and haunting reminder of both the light and the darkness in humanity.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It was riveting, emotional, and a punch to the gut that is absolutely necessary. Hearing about this time in history from the people who lived through this nightmare reminds us all that the Holocaust is not a myth and not strictly relegated to the world of literature. It is an event that happened in the lifetimes of many people who are still alive. While we cannot bring back those who were murdered, we can honor their memory by remembering them, and open our eyes to the negative energy and destruction that hate drags behind it.
I wanted to like this book. If I am to be completely honest, it was an infodump. In writing terms, an infodump is where the writer(s) provide the reader with a lot of information without emotion or insight into what the characters are thinking or feeling. Now granted, this is a memoir and not a fiction book. What I was missing was the quickening of my pulse and the uncertainty of the dangerous situations she put herself into.
For most of the world, Auschwitz is the most well known of the Nazi death camps. Millions of people were starved, tortured, and murdered simply because of who they were.
But the residents this unfortunately infamous town know it as Oswiecim.
Recently, Israeli Ice Hockey star Eliezer Sherbatov signed on to play for Unia Oswiecim. Unia Oswiecim is the local hockey team for Osweicim. The reaction to his decision was both positive and negative, depending upon who one spoke to.
Defending his choice, Sherbatov stated the following:
“I tell them, what happened 80 years ago will never be forgotten. That’s why, 80 years later, I want to show young people that they should be proud of their heritage and that now anything is possible.”
I agree with him. Though I fully understand the criticism, I feel like this is a sign of hope and the ability to triumph over tragedy. While the we must never forget what happened with the borders of the death camp, we must also live. The fact that the Jews and Judaism is alive and thriving nearly 100 years later is sweet revenge on it’s own.
While we cannot go back in time and change history, we can remember those who were taken from us. Eliezer Sherbatov joining Unia Oswiecim is in itself a memorial to those who were murdered and a reminder that love and humanity still exist.
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.