After The Holocaust, the world said never again. Never again would we let our brothers and sisters be slaughtered because they are different from us.
Unfortunately, never again has become again and again.
During the Rwanadan genocide in the spring and summer of 1994, approximately 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan citizens were murdered. The lucky survivors (if you want to call them lucky) were forced to become refugees.
Clemantine Wamariya is one of those survivors. She recounts the harrowing experience of being a refugee from mass slaughter in her new memoir, The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After. Co-written with Elizabeth Weil, Ms. Wamariya was a young girl when the killing began. She escaped Rwanda with her elder sister, leaving the rest of her family behind. The narrative jumps between two timelines: her life in America living with an Anglo-American family after receiving a visa to enter the United States and her life as a refugee, living as best she could.
While this book is a little difficult to read, both because of the subject matter and the timeline jump in the narrative, it is an important read. It’s important because we are still killing each other over minute labels instead of finding a way to coexist and respect our differences.
Oskar Schindler was a complicated man. He was a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi party. He was not exactly loyal to his wife. But he was also responsible for saving the lives of 1200 Jewish prisoners during The Holocaust.
This year, the film based on his life during the war, Schindler’s List, turns 25.
If there ever was a Holocaust film, Schindler’s List is that film. Liam Neeson played the title role. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the supporting cast includes Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes. Filmed in stark black and white for 99% of the film, the movie pulls no punches. It forces the audience to keep their eyes on the screen and screams out that this is what hate and prejudice leads to.
This film is hard to watch, but it is hard to watch for a reason. It is still relevant 25 years later not only because hatred, prejudice and genocide are still happening, but also because there are some who continue to deny that The Holocaust is anything but historical fact.
May this film live on for eternity, as a reminder of what human beings can do to each other and why we must find a way to accept one another, even if one is different.
This past weekend, I took a trip down to Washington D.C. with a friend. One of the site were visited was the United States Holocaust Museum.
This past weekend was also the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The museum is emotionally heavy, as is the story of uprising. Neither dances around The Holocaust. It is in your face, as it should be. It is a reminder of the duality of human beings: how on one hand, we can see past labels and see another person as they are. On the other hand, it is also incredibly easy to judge a person based on that same label and devalue them to the point of murder and destruction.
If nothing else, The Holocaust is a reminder that we are each other’s keepers. It is up to us to remember what hate can do to a person and how beyond important it is to see someone else as a human being before judging them based on factors such as skin color, race or religion.
On a personal note, I found Dobromil on a list of communities desecrated during The Holocaust. Dobromil is one of the shtetls my ancestors called home.
Last night it was announced that US, UK and France successfully hit its targets in Syria. The airstrike was in response to the chemical attack on the citizens of Douma last weekend.
While the airstrike does it’s job in sending a message to the Syrian regime, there is a component missing that is ignored at least by the current administration: the Syrian refugees who are being prevented from entering the United States. So far this year, only 11 Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter the country.
Since you know who took office last year, the parallels to Nazi Germany have been spoken of frequently.
In May of 1930, the St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Havana. Most of the passengers were Jews, looking for sanctuary from the destruction and prejudice they were experiencing in Europe.
To make a long story short, the ship was stuck in limbo. Only a handful of the passengers were allowed to disembark in Cuba. America refused to open her doors to those who were still on board. As a result, the ship has to return to Europe. While some of the allied countries took a few passengers, the rest were sent back to Germany. 254 of the passengers were killed in the Holocaust.
While I cannot disagree that we need to protect our borders, we need to open our country up to those who are suffering the most. Military strikes send a message, but so does opening the door and welcoming a people who have lost nearly everything.
But then again, this administration, like the one that turned away the St. Louis seems not to care.
One of the mantras that has come out of The Holocaust is that unless the learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.
Recently, several news outlets have reported that 4/10 millennials are either not aware of The Holocaust, or their knowledge is very basic. Even scarier is that 41% of those polled believe that the number of Jewish victims is exaggerated.
The results of the study create quite a few concerns. First, it reveals the very poor state of the American education system. Second, it opens the door to questioning the facts of The Holocaust, a concept that is especially dangerous in our current political climate.
These kids are our future leaders. If they do not have the knowledge of the past, they cannot learn from the mistakes of prior generations. Which, as history has demonstrated, opens the door to future massacres based on ethnicity or religion.
I feel sorry for our future with these kids leading the way.
America is supposed to be a country where people of every faith, creed and color live in harmony with one another. The key word in this sentence is supposed.
Arthur Jones is running for Senate in Illinois. While he refers to himself as a “white racialist”, anyone else would refer to him as a Nazi.
He is an open anti-Semite, denies the existence of the Holocaust, and has stated in the past that he is of the opinion that African-Americans do not have the same intellectual capacity as Caucasian-Americans.
I’m appalled and offended by the words that are coming out of the mouth of this man. As an American and a human being, I am offended. While only time will tell, I can only hope and pray that the voters in Illinois do what is right and do not vote for Mr. Jones to become their Senator.
Of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, 3 million of them were Polish.
Recently, Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda announced that he would sign the new law that makes it illegal to blame the country from the loss of life and destruction caused by Nazi Germany during World War II. It goes without saying that the law acquits the Polish nation of any guilt that they are part of the reasons that 3 million Polish Jews and 1.9 Poles who were not Jewish were murdered.
I am a Jewish woman of Eastern European descent. Poland is in my blood and my bones. My mother’s maternal grandparent’s emigrated from Poland during the early part of the 20th century. They left family behind who were murdered simply because they were Jewish.
It’s an irrefutable fact that Poland suffered under the Nazi invasion. It is also an irrefutable fact that many non-Jewish Poles tried to help their Jewish neighbors, knowing full well that they were putting their lives and the lives of their families on the line. However, there were also many Poles who either silently supported the Nazis by saying nothing or stepped up and did the Nazis dirty work for them.
As an American, I cannot dictate how another country’s leadership chooses to govern. However, this particular law does not feel right and feels like it spits on the graves of millions of innocents who were killed merely for being who they are.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today, we remember the millions of victims were killed simply for who they were.
I count myself among the lucky ones. My family has been in this country for more than a century. My great grandparents left Europe in the early 20th century, looking for a better life for themselves and their families in America. My grandparents were born in this country, I am a third generation Jewish American. But that does not exempt me from The Holocaust. Most of the family that my great grandparents left behind were slaughtered.
In the late 1970’s, one of my mother’s uncles added his grandfather, my great-great grandfather to the list of Holocaust victims at Yad Vashem.
While I will go about my business today, my heart will be breaking a little.
May the memory of those killed be a blessing and a reminder of what happens when we forget that the person next to us is first and foremost just another human being.
There are two types of people we meet in our lives. One type is a blip on the radar, we don’t think twice when they are gone. The other type is the person who influence in our life is so so ingrained in our psyches that we never forget them.
On Tuesday, PBS aired their new show: We’ll Meet Again. Hosted by veteran journalist and anchor, Ann Curry, the focus of the show is to reunite the subjects with someone whom they have not seen in a very long time. The subjects of the pilot were two adults whose childhoods were overshadowed by World War II. In California, a young girl of Japanese-American descent is forced into the internment camps with her family simply because her parents immigrated from Japan a generation before. She wants to reunite with the school friend who only saw her friend and did not see color.
A young Jewish boy is living in Shanghai, with his parents. They are refugees from Nazi Germany. He becomes close with his father’s business partner and his business partner’s wife. They have a daughter and emigrate to Australia after the war. He wants to reunite with their daughter, who was a baby at the end of the war.
If nothing else, this show speaks to the our shared humanity. It is also a reminder that friendships and emotional connections can last a lifetime, even when our lives shift and we begin to move away from the people we were once close to.
I recommend it.
We’ll Meet Again airs Tuesday Nights at 8PM on PBS.
Books are more than words on a page bound together. They reflect our shared humanity.
Dita Kraus is one of the lucky Holocaust survivors to not only have survived in general, but also having survived the death camp Auschwitz. During the war, she was secretly known as the camp librarian, trying to keep learning alive when death was all the inmates knew.
Her story is chronicled in the book, The Librarian of Auschwitz,originally written in 2012 by Antonio Iturbe and translated last year into English by Lilit Thwaites. In 1944, Dita was a fourteen year old girl. She is among the lucky ones. Not only is she still alive, but she and her parents are together. One of the Jewish leaders of the camp asks Dita to take responsibility for a number of books that have been smuggled in. Despite the fact that if the books are discovered, she could be killed, Dita agrees to the task.
What I loved about this book is that the books represent a sliver of hope and humanity when there was none. Not only is the book well written, but it speaks to the idea that even in the darkest of times, hope never completely dies. We just need to hang onto it as best we can, in whatever shape we can.
I absolutely recommend it.