Remembering the Holocaust

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I don’t know if you knew that.

But it just had me reflecting. I think that often times with big tragedies, long ago in history, we have a tendency to say this could never happen to us, that was then and this is now, never again – and all those other sentiments.

But the reality is, none of those things happened in a vacuum. None of those was a moment’s decision that changed the world. I mean, sure those things happen – but even “powder keg” type events like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, there were still a lot of moving parts. These things are often a lot of little decisions. Sometimes by ordinary people. Sometimes by people we don’t know will be extraordinary until later. Very rarely do we know who history will remember and who they will forget at the time that it’s happening.

The Holocaust was a terrible tragedy where millions of Jews were systematically murdered. There are no two ways around that. And even though we have said, many times, never again, unless we live with our eyes wide open, we make it too easy to let it happen again. Even now around the world, there are problems. Ethnic cleansing is happening in Myanmar. The situation in Syria. And on and on.

I will leave you with a poem and then some recommendations for reading on the Holocaust.

First They Came 

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

-Martin Niemoller

Martin Niemoller on the Holocaust Remembrance Day

Martin Niemoller

By the way, in case you are curious, I didn’t know this until I was looking this poem up, though I had read the poem many times, but Martin Niemoller was a German pastor. At first he supported Hitler, but then he began to realize there were problems with Hitler and he spoke out against him. He was one of 800 clergy and ecclesiastical lawyers taken to concentration camps for speaking out against Hitler and the Nazis.

His story, I think, illustrates two things. That sometimes the right thing costs us. And that it’s not too late to change your mind if you realize you’ve made a mistake. He could have kept his head down, kept supporting Hitler, but he didn’t. He realized things were wrong and he made a change – even though it cost him. Because of this change of sides, he is considered a controversial figure. People argue about his motives. Ultimately, why he did it is between him and God, but either way, he did change his mind. And I think that’s powerful.

Here are three fiction books I recommend for reading about the Holocaust.

And three non-fiction books.

Instead of asking a question like I usually do, I’d just like you to reflect on history and reflect on our future and what you (and we) can do to contribute to making the world better and not worse. 

Photo By J.D. Noske / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28946076

Who Was Irena Sendler? (Women in History Series)

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Wow, I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I decided that I should jump right back in.

She

  • Helped save over 2,000 Jews (primarily children) during the Holocaust.
  • Was caught and severely beaten by the Nazis, especially her feet and legs, leaving her to have difficulty walking for the rest of her life
  • Kept the names of the children she smuggled out and did her best to reunite the families where the parents had survived.
  • Was up for a Nobel Prize but lose to Al Gore.
  • Has had a play written about her life-saving actions, before which she was virtually unknown.
  • Managed to escape being killed by the Nazis and went back to work helping Jews.
  • Was Polish.
  • Was a social worker.
  • Worked with Zegota, a Polish underground resistance movement.
  • Got special permission to enter the Warsaw ghetto to check for Typhus (how she was able to smuggle children out).
  • Helped provide medicine, clothing and money for Jews through her work in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department.
  • Called the “Angel of Warsaw”

Others said:

“Mrs. Sendler saved not only us, but also our children and grandchildren and the generations to come.” – Elzbieta Ficowska

“She was an organizational genius. Though the youngest, she imposed her will on her colleagues, making quick decisions which no one questioned.” – Michal Glowinski

“Irena Sendler should be seen as the Righteous among the Righteous. Poles and Jews have a trio of heroes in common; Pope John Paul II, Janusz Korzak and Irena Sendler.” -Shevach Weiss, former Israeli ambassador to Poland

She said:

“Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.”

“We who were rescuing children are not some kind of heroes. That term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true – I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little. I could have done more. This regret will follow me to my death.”

“Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn’t give me the child. Their first question was, ‘What guarantee is there that the child will live?’ I said, ‘None. I don’t even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today.”

“Here I am, a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Sometimes they would give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported.”

“We witnessed terrible scenes. Father agreed, but mother didn’t. We sometimes had to leave those unfortunate families without taking their children from them. I’d go back there the next day and often found that everyone had been taken to the Umschlagsplatz railway siding for transport to the death camps.”

“I was taught that if you see a person drowning, you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not.”

“When the war started, all of Poland was drowning in a sea of blood. But most of all, it affected the Jewish nation. And within that nation, it was the children who suffered most. That’s why we needed to give our hearts to them.”

“After the Second World War it seemed that humanity understood something, and that nothing like that would happen again. Humanity has understood nothing. Religious, tribal, national wars continue. The world continues to be in a sea of blood. The world can be better, if there’s love, tolerance, and humility.”

English: Irena Sendlerowa, chairman of childre...

English: Irena Sendler, chairman of children section of Polish underground Council to Aid Jews in Warsaw, who saved several thousands of Jewish children during Holocaust. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Awards:

  • Poland’s highest honor (Order of the White Eagle) 
  • Commemorated on a Polish Coin in 2009
  • Righteous Among the Nations (Awarded by Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust)
  • Commander’s Cross
  • Jan Karski Award “For Courage and Heart”
  • Order of the Smile
  • Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award

From http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/sendler.asp

Books and Movies (Note, I haven’t read/watched them, I just found them):

Sources:

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