April 19, 2010

Trying to Make Sense of Things... That Can't Be

I was 10 years old when I first heard of the Holocaust. I remember exactly where I was, whose class I was in, and where I sat. (My grandfather fought in the Pacific Theater during WWII, so I was more readily aware of that half of the war at an early age.)

I was in Mrs. Beebe's 5th grade class at Orange Park Elementary school and I sat on the far right hand side of the class, facing the board, 2nd chair from the front. My girlfriend, Holly, sat right next to me, on my left.

Anne Frank.

We studied her and we studied the most horrific times in modern history and... I was aghast and somewhat obsessed. I remember going to the encyclopedias during library and looking up everything I could find upon it. I read everything, looked at the pictures, trying to assimilate what I was being told as it was so ghastly, I couldn't wrap my mind around it.

I think I felt if I read it, someone would unlock the key of how it happened. Someone would put in writing somewhere, some sort of explanation that would make it all clear; that would some how explain to me how things got so out of control, how a madman could take charge and that so many would follow.

Because... no matter what I read... no legends were provided to the horror of it all. Nobody had any answers to my questions.

Because sometimes... there just aren't answers.

Evil has no answers.

This is the third time I've heard Mr. Rubinstein. I can never hear him enough, for every time I listen to his remarkable stories of escape and survival with the horrific stories of death, I always come away with something different.

My 2nd son's class was fortunate enough to hear him speak today. Mr. T has been waiting for two years to hear Mr. Rubinstein speak, since his brother heard him two years ago. And like me, Mr. T has been somewhat obsessed, trying to understand, but unlike me as a child, he has the internet.

Countless hours have been spent with he and I scouring the internet and reading of atrocities. He has had thousands of questions, ranging from the camps to the allies stumbling upon them. I've been able to answer some questions, but I've had to look up just as many, which is what has had us on the 'net so much... trying to find answers to things for him... some of which truly have no answers.

Last night he took ill. He was absolutely devastated. For two years he has waited... and now he was too sick to attend school. And so I quietly took him into school today, after his stomach was settled enough to travel, had him sit in the back with me, away from everyone, and he listened.

He wanted to hear the story personally, hear the voice, see the pictures, hear it from a true survivor.

When I heard Mr. Rubinstein speak the first time, I cried the entire time. I cried for his father, for his cousins, for the millions who died with them. I cried for the fact that I am his mother's age then, just a couple years short.

We got in the car today and I mulled the numbers over again, but this time it was not the number of children lost, the number of parents murdered, the number of lives. This time it was the number of years.

In 1975 as I sat in Mrs. Beebe's classroom, I remember thinking this atrocity against humanity occurred so long before me. It was another lifetime, literally, to me. It was not in my existence.

But today I sat down and no longer heard, "1942" or "1944", but I heard instead, "30 years ago". It had only occurred 30 years prior when I heard of it first. I've lived well over 30 years now.

I can never live long enough for the Civil War or Revolutionary War to have happened in my lifetime. The Civil War ended 100 years before my birth. I will not live 100 years.

The Holocaust happened 20 years before my birth, 30 years from when I first became cognizant, and I have lived that time span... one of them two times over.

It suddenly seemed like it just happened. It doesn't seem so far away... and I realized, I really sat down and thought... it truly happened to my father's generation. Children born the year my father was born, may not remember the exact Holocaust, but the children of Europe of my father's year, lived the aftermath. The adults were of my grandparent's generation. I have good friends in my grandparents' generation now.

And it all feels closer.

As we rode home, I said to T, "You realize that Mr. Rubinstein was your cousin Sean's age. He was 19. His mother was my age, just a couple years older. It would be like Sean thinking of things to save my life and his..."

T looked at me, as the wheels started to turn. I continued, "Mr. Rubinstein's father was two years younger than your own father when he was murdered..."

It put a different spin on all of it for both of us.

But it matters not how much I read, how much I listen, how much I think about it, how much I try to put it into measurements I can relate to... the horror does not make sense.

And worse yet, I fear often we did not learn... and that it will be repeated.

Mr. Rubinstein's book should be a movie. Perhaps one day it will be... until then, go HERE to see his book, Escape to Freedom, and think about reading his story. You will not regret it.

Posted by Boudicca at April 19, 2010 10:26 PM

Never forget.

That's what we need to teach our kids. That the Holocaust really did happen, that a group of people were so twisted and evil to actually try to exterminate a whole class of people within the last century, that there are people today who deny it happened and will try to tell our kids so. I consider The Diary of Anne Frank required reading for all kids, and seeing the movie in one of it's incarnations so they can visualize just what kind of quarters she had to live in. And, when they are old enough to deal with the graphic horror, I would have them see Schindler's List. We must teach our kids how to deal with hate, especially on this level, and never let anyone tell them that it didn't happen.

Posted by: diamond dave at April 20, 2010 10:26 AM

Not two weeks ago, I read 'Sophie's Choice'. I spent half the time with my hand over my mouth in horror.
Elie Weiss' 'Night' also brought tears.

Posted by: Jean at April 20, 2010 11:54 AM

just yesterday I was reading about the youngest survivor who was saved by Schindler (Schindler's List). He was going to speak at a university in Prescott, AZ. He was 80 years old. The speech was to be about his family and Schindler. His two older brothers were killed in the camps. The rest of his family, father, mother, and 2 siblings, survived because of Schindler. Even with the horror there were some people who stood up for the right thing.

When I was a kid I had a neighbor who worked at the local men's clothing store. He and his wife had been in the camps and were lucky enough to escape. He had been a concert violinist and the Nazis smashed his hands in the camps. His wife had been a nursing professor. They escaped and came to small town Ohio and settled down. He became a clerk in a clothing store and his wife was a practical nurse taking care of babies in the hospital (she never got good enough in English to take the nursing exams). Every year she made German Christmas cookies for all the neighbors. Neither one would ever go back to Europe although they could have to visit what family survived. Just said there was nothing there that was not better here. Always wish I could have gotten down the rest of his story about his experiences. Wonderful people. Told me that it was the local people who saved the two of them when they first got out (local soldier helped them get away from Europe) and his family helped when they got to the US.

A Jewish friend took me to a Remembrance celebration at a local synagogue here in NYC. The speakers were all survivors and so were many of the congregation. Really brought it all home to hear them speak of what it was like and who helped and who didn't. Just to see the numbers tattooed on the arms and to see the yellow stars that they had to wear brought it home to me; not just the camps but the everyday living outside of the camps before they were arrested was eye-opening. We must never forget!!

Posted by: dick at April 20, 2010 01:09 PM

You and Mr. T might appreciate what this 14-year-old young man is doing to keep the memory of all these people alive. It is good to remember.

Posted by: Omnibus Driver at April 20, 2010 03:52 PM

..and as a side note we also need to acknowedge that genocide is STILL happening - Sudan, Rawanda, Sri Lanka... mans inhumanity to man never fails to amaze and disgust me.

Posted by: Shaz at April 20, 2010 10:40 PM

It was always real to me. My older sister and I were born in Germany to parents that were still occupying that evil place 16 years after the event. My grandmother hated them with a passion decades later because they were evil personified.

Twisted evil. found in Germany and Japan. My other grandparents occupied Japan for many years.

Posted by: curtis at April 21, 2010 05:43 AM

I always bristle when I read that some other nut job has decided the Holocaust didn't happen.

We went to the memorial in Boston several weeks ago. 6 glass towers each with 1 million numbers etched into them - each number representing a person. It was staggering to see it in that way.

My dad was a WWII fanatic - being born in 1931 it was a natural I guess. I grew up hearing the stories of his personal experiences during WWII at home, plus what he read about the things that happened that he may have been too young at the time to fully understand or absorb.

Yes, man's inhumanity against man continues today. Let us pray that it never reaches that scale ever again.

Posted by: Kris, in New England at April 21, 2010 05:25 PM

Also need to understand that our allies during WW II, USSR and China, have been just as guilty if not more so than Hitler was in the number they killed. Think of the Kulaks in the Ukraine, the educated people in China. Idi Amin and his pals were also guilty of a Holocaust by another name. The Sudan and Darfur today, another form of the same old, same old.

In the case of Hitler and the Nazis, they lost the war and were tried and found guilty and they also kept the best records of what they had done. We need to understand the methods rather than just the named event and fight it wherever it exists. The Nazis gave us a blueprint of how it happens. We just need to understand the methodology and guard against it.

Posted by: dick at April 22, 2010 12:39 PM

The Nazis blamed the Jews because the Jews were representatives of Capitalism. The result (before the war) was that they passed laws making life difficult for the Jews with the objective of making them leave the country. Our current economic difficulties are creating similar trends in our own politicians.

If you want to understand what happened during the war, you have to read "Wages of Destruction" by Adam Tooze, which is an economic history of the 3rd Reich. It is only then that you will understand the war and why the Germans did what they did.

Britain cut Germany off from the importation of food from the US. Germany attempted the same. Our ships got through to Britain but not to Germany. It was impossible to feed everyone in Germany, or later, occupied Europe. In addition to not having enough food, they didn't have the oil necessary to efficiently farm. People had to die.

The Germans had been through starvation before, during the 1st World War. It was horrible. Old people and babies starved; millions died. Even their surrender did not end the starvation; food was embargoed from Germany until mid 1919. See the NY Times archives, for example: THOUSANDS ARE PERISHING, March 8, 1919.

So when the next starvation blockade went up, they decided it would be better to murder the portions of society they blamed for the economic difficulties than to watch old people and babies starve. Of course it wasn't sold like that to the population, but I imagine that plenty of them understood the realities of the food situation.

The reason "it could never happen here" is because we are a food exporter; we never get very hungry. Europe still has the same problem; as far as modern warfare goes, they have a glass jaw. Us and Russia are the world powers because we have food, oil, and naval power. If we ever went at it with the Chinese, within a couple of months they'd be eating their pets.

Posted by: Carl Brannen at April 22, 2010 11:21 PM