Reflection by Mary E. Latela, November 18, 2016
We are a people of stories. We learn about our families, our nation, about the world, from the stories transmitted to us. This has been a stressful time, this election season, so I wanted to lift up some of the history which defines our strength in the most difficult times of all. To not repeat the horrific actions of the past, we first need to know our history.
How can we help to be a stronger democracy, more noble citizens, people of integrity who embrace the stranger, and make room for one more at our table? First, we can learn. Then we can choose an action which is meaningful to each of us to mark our memories, to keep our stories, to cling to integrity and the common good rather than individual powers.
The U.S. government kept documents “classified “about the atomic bomb, about casualties after Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Our high school history class always blamed “foreigners” for war. Somehow we never reached World War II.
No one taught us about the concentration camps. Thanks to Schindler’s List, we viewed the atrocities. Humble thanks to Elie Wiesel and other courageous people who vowed to remember and transmit the stories of the victims. Wiesel is known for his statement: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” We have their true memories.
Yes, there were experiments on human beings. Yes, there were gas ovens to kill without too much noise. Yes, the clothing of the dead was often sorted by children to look for valuables – a pearl button, a broach, a gold tooth. Roberto Benigni shocked us and taught us about human compassion in his film Life is Beautiful, about a father who helps his little boy to survive in the camps, and gave his life for his son. Some critics say Benigni made light of the Holocaust. Nicoletta Braschi, who played his wife in the film says: “The movie is not so much about the Holocaust, the movie is a love story, and its special character, Guido, is a father who is able to translate into the language of his child the world around that is a nightmare.” The film is dominated by Guido’s effort to persuade his son Giosu that the execution-camp experience is an elaborate game
Holocaust denial is an attempt to negate the established facts of the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. Holocaust denial and distortion are forms of antisemitism. They are generally motivated by hatred of Jews and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests. Tell this to the vets who were there to liberate the camps, who knew nothing about this horrible secret until they came into the camps and viewed the wasted bodies of men and women and children who clung to the hope in a tiny spark of light. Our elderly friend still remembers.
The question keeps returning…. Did the US protect Nazi persecutors who made it to the states? According to an internal history kept at NYTimes offices, the government’s Nazi-hunting operation may have involved protecting persecutors here in the states. The Justice Department kept the 600-page report secret for the last four years, releasing a heavily redacted version last year to a private research group that sued to force its release. A complete version was obtained by The New York Times. http://documents.nytimes.com/confidential-report-provides-new-evidence-of-notorious-nazi-cases?ref=us#p=1
As we draw near to religious holydays, we can acknowledge the festival of lights – namely Chanakah – which is celebrated from December 24th – January 1st. We can live as good citizens of a precious democracy. We can make a practice of doing a good act which is meaningful. After all, if we say we live in a democracy, we do take on special responsibilities. Think about this, if it moves you.