Sometimes I jot down things my mother says on the off-chance that they may spark a future post. The truth is, my memory isn’t what I used to be, and so sometimes I scan through the list of mom-sayings while praying, “Lord, what do you want me to write about today?” I’ve actually started posts with “I’m not going to worry about it” several times because it is ripe with possibilities — so ripe, in fact, that it now yields back-to-back posts.
My mother says, “I’m not going to worry about it” when things don’t make sense to her. It’s her way of dismissing the confusing topic. If only it were so simple to dismiss those things that trouble us.
There is a topic that has long troubled me. When I say long, I mean decades. It is the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of Jewish people, insidiously spear-headed by Adolf Hitler, and stupidly, vilely, followed by so many.
I can still remember vividly the day I learned about the Holocaust. It was a fall day at Syracuse University in 1978. I was taking a class in Judaism. Many of the students in the class were Jewish, looking for an easy class to take. I was looking for understanding of another religion that was linked to my own faith.
Before attending Syracuse University, I had only known one Jewish person, Iris Greenburg. I think her family had a summer home in Cooperstown. One day, we were probably eleven or twelve, she told me she was Jewish and I had a world of questions for her. Where do you go to church? It’s a synagogue. But where is it? Oneonta. And so on.
So, I’m sitting in this Judaism class in 1978, surrounded by Jewish students, and the professor started talking about the Holocaust. He throws out a number — 6 million. Six million people killed. The other students don’t seem shocked or anything. They’ve all heard it before. But for me, this is news. I had another world of questions. How could this happen? What about all the people who should have done something to stop it? Why didn’t I learn about this before?
Now, I suppose I could just say, “I’m not going to worry about it,” but I did and still do. That number is staggering.
In 1998, a group of middle-school students in Whitwell, Tennessee had a similar reaction. They were studying the Holocaust in a voluntary after-school class, and found that number unfathomable, so they decided to gather six million paperclips, to see how big the number really was. A book, appropriately called Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial, documents the whole thing.
Another book I’m currently reading,The Heart and the Fist: The education of a humanitarian and the making of a Navy SEAL by Eric Greitens, is a fascinating story of a Duke graduate, an Oxford Rhodes scholar, who as a student had travelled the world — China, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, India (to work with Mother Teresa), Bolivia to name a few of the countries — but then chose to become a Navy SEAL because he wanted to make a difference. While in Rwanda, a country devastated by its own Holocaust, he observed
These women had suffered more than I could have ever imagined, and they were still willing to welcome me, to talk with me… If people can live through genocide and retain compassion, if they can take strength from pain, if they are able, still, to laugh, then certainly we can learn from them.
Eric Greitens said
We live in a world marked by violence, and if we want to protect others, we sometimes have to be willing to fight. We all understand at the most basic level that caring requires strength as well as compassion.
Oh, how I want that strength!
One thing that really bothers me about the Jewish Holocaust is the complacency of the German people. Women planted their gardens and hung their clothes on clotheslines outside the walls of the death camps and the ghettos. Could that be me?
Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, begins at sunset tonight and goes through sunset tomorrow, April 19. Stop sometime during the day and count to 6,000,000 to remember. And worry about it.