Thursday, June 29, 2006

How Long to Hate

My travels have taken me to Japan. My daughter is with me on this trip and we are both enjoying the country very much. The Japanese are extremely polite and clean and it is easy for one to believe that this is a culture worth emulating; that the peace and serenity that surrounds here is a good direction given the troubles that plague the world…still I know that all is not what it seems.

I mentioned to my Mother how much we were enjoying Japan and she politely stated that she was glad that we were enjoying our trip but that she would rather not hear or think of the Japanese. My father fought in the South Pacific during WWII and in fact had his ship sunk by a Kamikaze Pilot. I am aware of the atrocities that were committed by the Japanese military during the 1930’s and 40’s. Indeed, some of those who I work with are Chinese and there was much discussion during our meetings of the “Rape of Nanking” and of the unwillingness of the Japanese to acknowledge their crimes or apologize to the victims. Even the Germans have done this and surely the evil of the Japanese was just as bad as what I recently witnessed at Auschwitz. So I ask myself a question…How long do we hate? How long before we forgive and move on?

Surely those responsible for these crimes must be removed from society, but do their sins necessarily transfer to their children? To their grandchildren?

My country was torn apart by a brutal Civil War 145 years ago. A generation of young men was lost and the hatreds that were generated were as deep and dangerous as any that has been born in this world. To our great benefit, the leaders of both sides found a way to move on from the killing and to give the country a path to reconciliation. The good will of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses Grant likely saved my country from the ongoing violence and hatred that plague so much of the world today; that continue without end in Palestine and Israel.

Humans have been evil to one another for all of history, but I fear that we honor their evil when we continue to hate when those who are worthy of hating are long dead and beyond our grasp. I understand the anger at injustice, but there must be a time when we move on. Those who claim that they need apologies for acts of injustice committed 100 or more years ago distress me. I think that these people do their ancestors no honor and only extend the reach of those who perpetrated these evils so long ago. We all have real problems to address and the fact that so many carry baggage with them of slights that have been done so long ago as not to really matter frustrate me in the extreme. I am tempted to use that particularly American retort, “Get a Life!”.

Best! Norm.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The deafening Silence


I had heard the name for my whole life. I had seen pictures and heard of the horror of the place. I have even seen survivors on documentaries and news shows on the television. The fact that the place remains in living memory reminds me that all this happened a fairly short time ago. This was not some evil of the Middle Ages, when we like to think people were less civilized and caring. This tragedy was lived by my parent’s generation! While having learned these things made me understand the tragedy of the Concentration Camps, I was not prepared for the experience of actually seeing them; of actually feeling the dread and sadness that permeates this place even today.

The first thing that struck about Auschwitz was the sense of utter hopelessness. I was amazed that this feeling would come to me as a tourist/visitor and cannot image the oppressive weight of this feeling on one who was brought here as an inmate. My mind reeled at the horror of the camp and I found myself imagining that I would have to escape such a place. I looked about to see how this might be managed. The borders were of two fences about 10 feet apart. Each of the fences was barbed and electrified and guard towers covered the entire border at intervals of roughly every 20 yards. The fence was also very well lit. I could not see how this could be managed other by tunneling. When I thought of this approach, it seemed no more promising. The barracks were floored with cement and the inmates were worked and starved to death (making the work of tunneling a daunting task). Further, prisoners were isolated based on the whim of the guards. They were put in 4X4 cells with nothing to use to tunnel, or simply taken out and shot.

Once I got past the impression of escape, I was forced to face the reality of life in the camp. The guides told us that the Germans could have a prisoner shot, tortured, or gassed for any reason. Not averting your eyes or showing due respect could get you killed. For me, the mental torture and breaking of the spirit would be even worse than the physical torture.

The survival instinct in people must be an incredibly strong thing for anyone to have done what was necessary to live through the experience of these camps. When I see survivors (they were on TV for the Pope’s visit the day before I went to the camps), I wonder at the fact that their desire to live was strong enough to carry them through their experience. I know that I could not have survived…in fact; my greatest hope would have been to die quickly.

How much better than me were those who struggled through the experience, especially those who gave of themselves to their fellow inmates during these horrible times? There are a million stories of these people in the camps; of those who gave food and comfort to others; of those who survived to help keep others alive. These are true heroes and I don’t fool myself that I have this kind of strength. There was no glory in their bravery. There were no parades or bands for what they did. In the stories of these people, I find the truest picture of God on earth. These people brought God to those most in need of him and represent the best of that light, of that love, that lies within all of us. It is to know that people are capable of this love and of this goodness that makes the trip to this horrible place special.

This is the memory that I will take from Auschwitz.

Best! Norm.