Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Holy Innocents

Today saw the initial visit to the Israel Museum within the Yad Vashem Complex. It seems to me that its primary aim is to ensure that the Holocaust and its causes are not forgotten, and its facts and evidences remain long after living memory ebbs away.

I mentioned yesterday a memorial that it situated in the campus directly between the archives [the past], and the school [the future] - and it is a sculpture that illustrated just one story of so many hundreds of thousands which affected normal daily Jewish family life through the appalling lens of the Nazi extermination of so many Jews. This tale affected me in and of itself, but as I stood in front of it as father to young children, it has left a rather significant ache in my heart. I know how it is to be conscious of the noise that babies make when upset or under stress and the attention that such noise can attract. I have utterly convinced myself that I would have accompanied my children as they languished outside of the relative safety of the family 'hide out', that my arms would have been wrapped around them as our lives were stolen from us, and that unlike the father implicit in this sculpture, I wouldn't have abandoned my daughters. It is an easy judgment to make from where I stand in 2010 and I cannot begin to comprehend the horror that faced such families.

This account was compounded by another story revealed within the museum itself. We heard a speech of the head of a Jewish Council in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland - his name was Mordechai Rumkovski. He and all his fellow Jews were herded into the ghetto and they tried to live as reasonably as possible in this environment. The Nazis needed space for more Jews, so Mordechai was ordered to kill 20,000 of his Jewish community. It was his choice who and why, and his speech (delivered to the weeping Jews in his charge) pleaded with them to understand the terrible dilemma he faced - that he needed, like a surgeon, to amputate a limb to sacrifice the body; in other words, kill 20,000 to save the remaining 80,000. It was his decision that under-10s should face death as they were too young to work - and as workers has some implicit value to the Nazis, they would more readily assure the community of survival.

Once again, children were made to be the 'sacrificial lambs'.

These and other accounts are haunting my thoughts as I sit here and write. My heart is heavy with the plight of so many people - the looks on faces, the piles of bodies, the defilement of person, the images of humiliation of Jews in the street - and I can't do a thing to help them. I am, in one sense, a bystander. I can understand why others were simply bystanders - paralyzed with a fear of this grotesque spectre that moved like (in image and in fact) a toxic cloud among them all.

I cant' find the words for this. I can't take it in, and I am not sure if I really want to. This is surely just an event from my history books; dead and gone. But of course I am wrong. I am forced to look, to taste and see. I must not look away, I must not. If I ever look away, my own children are in danger from forces which may consume them. I can only imagine the painful prayers of parents of the Holocaust who survived their children.

May God grant me the strength to keep my eyes, my mind and my heart open.

1 comment:

  1. Those of my generation and political persuasion have lived with the knowledge and horror of this particular evil all our lives. Not that this in any way makes its impact any less shocking.
    The cold calculating near-total elimination of one "inconvenient" section of society by a homicidal megolamaniac who believed his Aryan
    society to be superior to them, was a fact of daily life/death in the period between 1937 and 1945.
    To see the images en masse must be quite over-whelming for anyone seein g them for the first time as you apparently are. I would suggest if you can, that you try to distance yourself from the pathos of individual stories while "recording" the impact of the whole.
    Enjoy the lighter side of your trip to redress the balance.