Updated: Nov 13, 2019
We come to you today fresh from a visit across the pond. An enjoyable, albeit too brief, visit to Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Tours, France.
While there are a ton of great memories to share, on my mind this morning is how odd it is to walk down streets, sit in a café, or reflect in a park that was once occupied by Nazi Germany. The same street you can walk down today was once patrolled by the Gestapo. A hotel you stay in may have been a hiding place for Jewish people. The table at which you sit is the same place where Nazi officers once dined.
It’s essential to remember that all of this happened relatively recently. It isn’t like the discovery of fire, domestication of cattle, or even the assassination of Caesar. It’s recent enough that people alive today experienced in personally.
One who passed recently was Eva Kor. She and her twin sister were subject to medical experiments by Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who is likely honored with a statue in Hell. Kor lived in my hometown, Terre Haute, and died on an educational mission to Auschwitz. Her message, in a nutshell? Forgive, but do not forget. You can’t summarize class, love, and courage better than that.
Some people don’t like to think about unpleasant things. Yet, as George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We will only make progress when we manage not to repeat prior mistakes. Memories sometimes fade with the passage of time, and the Holocaust is no exception, as this New York Times piece discusses.
A focus of our educational system should be to ensure that the essential, aspects of our lives, our heritage, our world, continue top of mind even as they age. Slavery is no less important today than it was in 1865. The lives of Jesus, Mohammed, and Siddhartha Gautama Buddha are as important today as they were a thousand years ago. The work of Isaac Newton is as essential to our scientific and mathematical understanding today as it was three centuries ago. Yet it takes effort to keep these concepts active in the educational, social, and political discourse. We remember things because when we are continually reminded of them. If we quit celebrating Christmas, fifty years from now, half of us wouldn't remember what it was.
Anti-Semitism is alive and well today, and nowhere more so than in the Democratic Party. The Democratic U. S. House couldn’t even get majority support for a resolution this year that condemned anti-Semitism, until they watered it down to cover hate more broadly. Votes to support Mom, the Flag, and Apple Pie are pending. I’d love to have the spine rental concession in the Capitol.
While Trump is often accused of being anti-Jew (and is the only president in U. S. history to have a daughter and grandchildren who are Jewish), there is a list of Dem anti-Semitic office holders and party leaders who are not even coy about their anti-Semitism. They are proud of it.
Yet, the media tell us Republicans are anti-Semitic. Recall that, in the wake of Charlottesville, their chief of police, who is black, said that “both sides” were responsible for the violence. And Trump said there were good people on both sides of the demonstration about whether to remove a confederate statue. He was undeniably right. He most definitely did not say, and never has, that white supremacists are good people. He condemned Nazis and white supremacists, even as he recognized the discussion surrounding the confederate statue was one on which decent people could disagree. Any reasonable person accepts the truth of that. Of course, that’s not how it got reported.
Which takes us back to Amsterdam. We toured the Anne Frank house. It has been added to substantially since I first visited there, about 20 years back. There is now a beautiful, and very informative, museum and display adjoining it. The Center is modern and lovely, the house itself preserved as it was during WW II. Somehow, it all works together very well. My youngest is almost 23, has graduated from a liberal arts college, and is well informed on many aspects of political science (her major). The point being that the Holocaust was not news to her. Nor to Sue and me. In some ways that makes the experience more powerful.
My counsel: go to the Anne Frank house. Visit Auschwitz. Go to the Holocaust Museum. And read “The Volunteer,” the terrific new book by Jack Fairweather about Witold Pilecki. A member of the Polish resistance, Pilecki volunteered to be sent to Auschwitz in order to help get intelligence about the camp to the Allies.
Pause for a moment. Pilecki willingly became an inmate at Auschwitz in the hope that it might help get information to the British, French, and their allies, in order to potentially save millions of lives. “Courage” doesn’t go far enough to describe that. We can all learn from his example. Never forget.