surviving the holocaust

I heard a woman say,

“The Holocaust makes you think

of two things:

concentration camps

and the number six million.

And nothing in between.

But the Holocaust

was everything in between.”

She was a survivor.

She survived the terror,

the horror,

the everything in between

that was in fact

so gruesome,

we simply cannot imagine it.

The unbearable darkness

that humankind can unleash

on its very own.

~

Now 70 years after that brutal war ended,

headlines brag

of an 89-year-old Nazi guard,

charged with 158 counts

of complicit murder–

one for every trainload of prisoners

that came under his care.

Appearing in court with a cane,

he’s held with dementia, but no bail,

and waits to suffer the consequences

of his teenage actions.

Of things he did or did not do.

Of people he killed,

or did not stop others from killing.

Of acts he committed out of terror,

and horror,

and survival.

~

We all applaud as he’s taken away in shackles

and a green jumpsuit.

Because if this man is guilty,

then maybe we are less so.

But little do we know

that sacrificing one guard

for six million souls

will do no more to even the score

than removing a teardrop of saltwater

will help to dry up the sea.

Perhaps if we focus our anger,

and sadness,

and remorse,

and regret,

on understanding

the beliefs,

and culture,

and values

of others,

perhaps then,

we are freed

from the prisons of our histories.

~

And we can all become survivors.

 

19 thoughts on “surviving the holocaust

  1. This was a gorgeous post! There is something about the holocaust that has always fascinated me. Not in a good way just.. I can’t look away from the horror and tragedy of it all. And you are right, if we changed our focus perhaps we could free ourselves.

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    1. Thanks so much, Jen. I’m right there with you. I think it’s hard for us to imagine human being doing that to each other. It’s a burden all of mankind bears, whether we were alive them or not.

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  2. Very strong poem here. I love the “everything in between” line, which is so open ended but also calls to mind all the “in-between” tragedies.

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    1. Thanks Natalie. The quoted woman at the beginning is from a documentary called, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.” It’s an incredibly uplifting story if you ever have the chance to see it.

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  3. I don’t forgive those who murdered my family regardless of their being elderly now or a teen then. The world needs a reminder that justice for those who commit acts of evil has no statute of limitations.

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    1. I’m not trying to make a statement about what should happen to the guard because honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that. This piece is really about healing by doing what we can to prevent something so terrible from happening again.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read, and offering your thoughts. And I’m sorry if I offended you here.

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      1. You didn’t offend me and I didn’t see any malicious intent but I felt like I had to say something.

        Some people have told me that we need to forgive and forget but I can’t see a way to do that because these events happen over and over again.

        The question in my mind is how to heal, move on and prevent it from happening again.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I couldn’t agree with you more. Sometimes, forgiveness is too much to ask. But healing, and preventing, that’s what I wanted to get at here. Thanks again for taking the time to read and for responding. I really appreciate it. :)

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  4. I love the sentiment here. Rather than focusing on punishing someone for long ago sins, which will in no way help us feel better about those lost 6 million, we should focus on the attitudes and atmosphere that allowed for the loss of those 6 million and attempt to keep it from happening again.

    TaMara @ Tales of a Pee Dee Mama

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  5. I’m not sure how I feel about this. First, of course, it’s beautifully written. Obviously the message itself is beautiful too, that we all should learn to be more tolerant, loving even, toward our fellow man. However, I can see how other people could get offended by this piece in that it seems as though you are pitting tolerance against justice. They do not need to be mutually exclusive.

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    1. Completely agree, Melanie. I believe in justice. And forgiveness. And tolerance. I don’t believe any of these things are mutually exclusive.

      To me, the piece is about how the Holocaust affected different parties – those who suffered the terror firsthand, their persecutors, and even younger generations today, who struggle to understand how human beings could do these things to one another not even a century ago.

      The third section is about mankind’s responsibility to keep something like this from happening again by educating each other and understanding each other, so we cannot be manipulated into destroying one another. I believe that’s how we’re released from the prisons of our histories, even if in fact we are never able to forgive.

      Thank you very much for reading and for taking time to share your thoughts.

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  6. mmm.. thanks for writing this piece. i read it a few days ago but held off on commenting until i mulled over it awhile.

    as i read it, i wanted to ask.. are you trying to convey the theme of forgiveness? that in forgiveness, we can be released from the prison of our histories?

    or is the piece focusing more on justice? it initially sounds like you are discussing justice, but then shifts to forgiveness?

    i agree.. i think forgiveness.. or empathy, or understanding… is necessary, and indeed, the concept of forgiveness does that – it is liberating and freeing. at the same time, forgiveness does not deny justice. does that sound contradictory?

    as the daughter of genocide survivors (not the holocaust, but my parents survived the cambodian genocide) i wrestle with these issues often. i actually hope and seek both- forgiveness, but also justice. i can totally identify TheJackB above… except for me, the only way i know how to reconcile the 2, is to trust in God, because I do believe He is both a God of forgiveness and grace, but also a God of justice.

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    1. First of all, thank you for taking the time to read. And even more so, to come back with such a thoughtful reply.

      To me, the piece isn’t about justice or forgiveness. It’s about how the Holocaust affected different parties – those who suffered the terror firsthand, their persecutors, and even younger generations today, who struggle to understand how human beings could do these things to one another not even a century ago.

      The third section is about mankind’s responsibility to keep something like this from happening again by educating each other and understanding each other, so we cannot be manipulated into destroying one another. I believe that’s how we’re released from the prisons of our histories, even if in fact, we are never able to forgive.

      Thanks again for reading. I hope you find both the forgiveness and justice you seek.

      Like

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