Saturday, July 25, 2009

Guess what I did yesterday?

I hugged a Holocaust survivor.

And he was wonderful and amazing ... beyond words.

We had Alter Wiener come to speak to us in our town. A few months ago, he had come to speak at the library. And tons of people got turned away. So a couple of gals in my ward (at church) took it upon themselves to arrange for him to come back. And I'm so that that they did.
(And I'm also SO GLAD that T2, Michael's sister, was able to watch the kids for us.)

Mr. Wiener was born in southern Poland. His father was murdered by Nazis when he was 13 (They knew his father was missing. He had to be identified out of the bodies left in a mass grave months after the German soldiers had come through the town). At 15, he was taken from his home, unable to say goodbye to his stepmother, and sent to a work camp ... where he was reunited with his brother, who Mr. Weiner was unable to recognize -- due to the harshness of life in the camps.

After his time spent in the camps, when he was liberated by the Russian army, he weighed only 80 lbs. When he was able to return to his hometown, he found only four cousins still surviving. Over 120 other members of his family died were murdered in the camps.

... And Mr. Wiener? He ... is AMAZING. He doesn't hate the Germans for doing/allowing these atrocities. He is a voice preaching tolerance and understanding. He strongly believes that each and every person needs to be judged solely on his or her own merits -- not on stereotypes or generalities.

He was subject to daily beatings, he was reduced from being a PERSON to being a number (it was not tattooed on him ... but he was labeled with it on his cap, shirt, and jacket. Referred to as only that number) ... and he has truly risen above it.

He can compare the German soldier who punched him, knocking his teeth out, with the wonderful example of a German worker who risked her life daily by hiding a cheese sandwich for him for the thirty days that their paths crossed (before he was transferred to another of the five camps in which he was imprisoned).

Before I went to the lecture, my mom had called. One thing she said to me in the conversation was, "I just want to be sure that you know that the Holocaust happened."

I've been learning about the Holocaust since I was in Jr. High. In 1992, there was a traveling exhibit about Anne Frank and the Holocaust. I remember our class walking down the street to the tiny museum in my tiny hometown to view it when it came for a few days. I went back again with my mother later before it left our town's museum. Somewhere, I know that I still have some of the papers from that exhibit -- a reproduction of a page from a German newspaper, articles about intolerance and the effects thereof ... When I'm at Mom's house, I often drink my cocoa out of the mug we bought with quotes from Anne Frank.

It didn't hurt that I also had been an avid reader of the American Girl books (and longed for the accompanying dolls) ... I loved Molly, the girl from the 1940s. And had done some supplementary reading about the time period.

We also learned about the Holocaust in my Freshman year Block class (Language Arts and Social Studies). Mr Hoque, the Social Studies teacher, who speaks German, played the part of the Nazi soldier, shoving our class of around 30-40 students into a space about the size of a handicapped bathroom stall and yelling orders in German. (Since I was taking German, I understood most of what he said, which put me at quite an advantage.) Neither he nor our English teacher gave us any warning about this -- we were sitting at our desks as the morning bell rang and -BAM- suddenly it was nothing like any other day at school.

Due to my past reading (since I'm not much besides precocious), I had more than an inkling of what this object lesson was about. Which also put me at an advantage.

Of course, nothing that was allowable in school would come anywhere near what the victims of the Holocaust ever went through.

My mom made me watch Schindler's List. It's not my favorite movie (I think the scene that's supposed to be illustrating what a womanizer Oskar Schindler was -- the sex scene-- could be taken out easily) ... but it does help give a glimpse of what terrible, terrible things people can allow to happen ... what some people can DO to each other.

It's ... I don't know if there's a word that fully encompasses the concept of what I'm trying to convey -- heartbreaking, unexplainable, madness ...

BUT, my mom's done a damn good job of raising me to understand that racism, anti-Semitism, any form of intolerance such as this? It is, to be absolutely blunt, WRONG. STUPID. MAD.

I know that I'm preaching to the choir here (or, at least, I hope that I am). But I feel that it is important that I write this.

As I said to my mom, "I have NO DOUBT that the Holocaust happened. Anyone who denies its existence is either terribly naive or has an agenda."

There is no reason to deny the Holocaust. It's, to me, as senseless as denying ... the Civil War or the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens or the internment camps that our nation had during WWII. It's a terrible thing. BUT IT HAPPENED. And we should never forget it.

Pre-WWII Germany was not a happy place. Then this charismatic man came, proclaiming that Germany would rise and that the people would have nice things and food in their bellies. Truly, putting it that way, it sounds really nice. (Kind of like how proclaiming that we will all have health care or lower taxes or something like that sounds wonderful.)
And when people are starving and poor, they are ready to follow someone with a vision.

And because they were so willing to follow this man's vision, unspeakable things happened.

And some people today try to deny the existence of all this.

Which scares me.

Because if we can conveniently forget or overlook all this, we have learned NOTHING from it.
And it will end up happening AGAIN.

If I had one wish, however unrighteous this may be, I wouldn't wish for world peace or millions of dollars. I'd wish that EVERY SINGLE PERSON would be COMPLETELY AWARE of the SOUL INSIDE EVERY OTHER PERSON.
This way people would be horribly aware of the effects of our actions on other people.


(See? I told you it was somewhat unrighteous. It's not kind to WANT people to suffer IMMEDIATELY and TO A GREAT DEGREE when they're ... not nice.)

And this is why Alter Wiener is a better person than I am. When someone asked him if he ever felt the desire to take a rifle to Hilter's head, he responded that he wasn't a violent person. He doesn't even know, after being in the Israeli army, how to fire a gun. He would prefer, rather than REVENGE, that JUSTICE be done.

He also said that Hilter's main problem, in his opinion, is that he didn't know how to love. No one who knew love or how to love would have ever done these things. ... "I don't think he knew how to make love. *audience laughs* He should have talked to me. I'd have given him advice. *more laughter*" <-- See why I adore this sweet man? He survived conditions that are less than what we give to stray animals. For YEARS. He survives. AND he keeps a sense of humor and humanity. He. Is. AMAZING.

And it kills me that these Holocaust survivors are all dying off. Soon there will only by their accounts. And ... it worries me that not enough people will read/hear/be aware of them and their stories, their histories, their experiences.

Within the last couple of weeks, I read "The Butterfly" by Patricia Polacco to my kidlets. There are very few books for young children that deal with the Holocaust.
In a way, I understand ... we want to keep our children SAFE. We want them to know that they're loved. ... This is IMPORTANT. I also want to have my children be aware that, as much as they are loved, there are dangers. I want them to be able to protect themselves ... to know, if (God Himself forbid) something should happen, where they can go for help. (Hey, one family that I'm descended from? Let's just say that they weren't putting the FUN in dysfunctional. And, hey, if ANYONE tries anything with MAH BAYBEES, I want to be aware of it to keep him/her the HELL away from my kids and any other people that he/she might hurt on his/her little self-destructive path. I'm just sayin'.)

Still, reading "The Butterfly" with my daughter (since my son, Lord love him, wasn't exercising his attention span, so to say) was ... difficult. I wanted to be SURE that she understood it, that she GOT it ... why this story of a member of the French Resistance and her daughter was SO important -- that she understood the morals involved. The she will know that just because a group of people choose to follow one rhetoric, it's not neccessarily CORRECT. That sometimes doing the right thing is DANGEROUS. That, even if it's dangerous, it's IMPORTANT to do it because it is the RIGHT thing to do. That NO ONE is more important or more worthy than any other person. That we are ALL worthwhile and valuable and loveable and precious.

I keep questioning myself about how old do they need to be before I can talk to them with more depth about this -- How old do they NEED to be before we read The Devil's Arithmatic (Jane Yolen) or Number the Stars (Lois Lowry) or The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) ... though, they have overhead a good portion of The Book Thief as I've read it aloud to Michael...

I know that I'm being more verbose than usual about this ... but ...

It just scares me that, someday, people won't remember what's happened. And they will forget the incredible power of a mass of people with a single goal, when the means are so ... inhumane/evil/heart-wrenching as they work toward an end.

Michael likens it to the pride cycle in The Book of Mormon. There were people who WITNESSED miracles ... and the next generation? Didn't care a whit!

I like to think that it's in our best interest to learn from others' experiences ... and I also believe that, like a bumper sticker that a wonderful friend of mine bought YEARS ago, not to estimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.

We need to be wise. Our children (and our children's children and so forth and so forth, worlds without end) NEED to be wise. We all should do our darndest to ensure that nothing like this EVER happens again.

As Wiener was talking about a student who corrosponded with him (She was legally blind from birth. In Hitler's regime, she'd have been murdered at birth. To achieve his ends of a perfect ... gene pool, he allowed no one with any handicaps to survive. Babies were killed at birth. Those older were sent to death camps, to the gas chambers and cremotoriums.), I thought to myself, "Perhaps the best way to judge a society is how they treat the disabled/"otherly-abled" among themselves."

(Confession: I could do better at that. I am not the most patient. I do okay with people who are hard-of-hearing or visually impaired ... because that's what I'm most used to. Like I've said before, you can often tell if I've been visiting with my dad or his eldest brother. I don't make great eye contact for a bit. True. And also, it appears that my voice is taller than I am. No wonder my dad thinks I'm almost his height. When I'm about six inches shorter. :P)

But, yes. Hug your loved ones. Show your love and appreciation for those you love. Try to love the unlovable. And remember the past. Learn from it.

I believe that it's vitally important.

And I'd love to be completely wrong about it.

Though I'm frightfully sure that I'm not.


Kate the Great said...

I have always been invested in the Holocaust as well ( I almost typed 'enthralled', but that seems the wrong word). Benjamin can't understand why I spend so much time reading about it and what not, but I, too, am terrified at the idea of society one day forgetting the magnitute of what we did.

While we were in Portland for our anniversary, we went to the Holocaust Memorial for the first time, since we were sans kidlets (too much reading for them to visit it yet), and it was heart breaking to see the far reaching implications, even to here in Oregon.

Schindler's List is, actually, my favourite movie, and minus the scene you mentioned, which isn't needed, I plan on making all my children watch it when they're old enough, regardless of the rating.

As for dealing with how and when the kids are ready to know about such things... I think they really guide us if we let them. When FP started getting into the Titanic, I was worried how to deal honestly with the amount of death, and how horrid it was for those who died. Especially when we watched videos that showed where people likely landed on the ocean floor (the laced up boots laying on the ocean floor). He surprised me though with how much he understood it, and how much he understood why those people died and that it was something very serious and reverential (sp.) We haven't talked about the Holocaust yet, because the few times he's been exposed to it he hasn't taken an interest yet, and so I think it's a sign he wouldn't really be ready to handle it.

It was the same for 9/11, we tried to explain it to him once, and he didn't get it... but after having read about it in a book or something, he came to us about it and when he was ready, it made it much easier to have a very in depth and frank discussion with, on a level that I really was surprised we could cover.

But anyway, now I'm rambling because it's 4 am and much much too hot! But I totally agree with you, and am very glad for your experience.

Chris said...

thats SO awesome that you got to wrap your arms around a living hero! i just met alter myself, through a mutual friend, and read his story...WOW!

i was so impressed and so moved by his story that i had to retell it on my blog Never Again!

i hope you'll take a minute to read my post and leave a comment so i know that you visited...thanks and shalom!

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