Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is the lesson of the Shoah?

Today is Yom Hashoah. It is a day of sadness for remembering the many lives cut off so brutally by Hitler and the Nazis (May Their Names and Heritages Be Erased From G-D ‘s Earth) But we should also make it a day to rejoice that there are those who survived and bear witness to the atrocities that were visited upon them and their families. That these people live and went on to create and contribute to society and the world at large despite the horrors of the Shoah is indeed a miracle – a nes directly from the Hand of Hashem. Just imagine if there had been no one to survive. Just imagine if the killing machine had done its work so completely and so efficiently that all trace of Hashem and Hashem’s people had been wiped out. Unbelievable? Yes, but the Nazis being the arrogant narcissistic megalomaniacs that they were, wanted the world to know what they had done. They kept records. They were going to create a museum about the Jewish people – the race that they were in the process of destroying. So they knew what they were destroying was in essence, worthy of acknowledgement and indeed they recorded the moments and the people.

They were trying to destroy the essential humanity in us all. That which makes us G-dly beings worthy of being. The spirituality of our essence was under threat like never before. G-D is about creation and love, peace and harmony on the level of understanding that is beyond the power of most of us to conceptualise. The core of creation is understanding that you are at one with G-D, then the Universe and more, you can empathise and identify with the pains, joys and emotional and psychological state of others and do not do to them that which you would not want done to you.

There are flawed human beings with all sorts of different psychological states at play in their interactions with others. This makes life hard. Who was Hitler? A very damaged human being who needed affirmation in a rather ugly and twisted way and used his charisma and gift of the gab to corrupt the thinking of a nation. But the soil had already been turned many times before so when he scattered the seeds of hatred, anger and contempt for Jews and the Jewish nation, hundreds of years, perhaps a thousand years or more of cultivation of these seeds fell into furrows that were ready to nurture it to an awful fruition that nearly destroyed a whole civilization. Yet, for the very talents and power of positive energy – G-D given that made them so hated and so reviled by many, stuck in the drabness of lives devoid of spirituality, this connection to a real G-D and spirituality allowed survival and helped the survivors to know that they had survived for a reason.

You see, we are not slaves to dogma. Our G-D has empowered us to know that He is G-D and we shall have no other. So we should also celebrate today and bless and thank G-D that we have survivors to tell us, to bear witness and we try to make the world a better and more humane place despite the best efforts of those caught in a morass of negativity to drag us all down into their pits of prejudice, anger, jealousy and hatred and to enslave us.

Let me give a little parable. There was once a small boy at a school. He was very different to some of the other kids and he got bullied quite a bit. One of the teachers, tried to tell everyone that he was a stupid boy and she even went so far as to tell the mother of the boy that he was completely clueless.  Partly because his father belonged to a race of people that she holds certain prejudices against, her opinion of the boy was coloured. Sometimes people cannot help their prejudices and are good people despite it. However to reach that level of understanding they have to acknowledge their limitations, their prejudices and rise beyond it and try to deal with it. Denial is an ugly process. People who deny the Shoah happened are continuing the work of the Nazis and their ilk. When you deny that someone was bullied or your own prejudices you are not dealing with it or trying to eradicate negative traits. You begin to foster and nurture negativity and you stunt your own personal growth. I was asked not to bring my son to a shule for possibly the same reasons. Simply prejudice and an attempt to deny that there is something wrong with the way a person reacts to another.

We often mirror and reflect how people feel about us and we do this from early childhood. Unless however we understand that at the core of our essence is a moral order and substance and that we need to mould along the lines of truth and honesty and to work in harmony with others.  We need to accept that the other person is an individual who has been created for a purpose. Once that acceptance takes place then we can understand how to love another person without trying to make them what we want.

So while we mourn, we should also celebrate that there are survivors and that we can treasure these people and when we bear witness in turn to their pain we understand how we must make the world a better place and to ensure that such events do not occur again.

As a child, I read volume upon volume of stories from a Life and Time series because my family are very avid readers. My Uncle who remained single until he was 46 marrying a woman much younger than himself, she was 27, has an extensive library. Out in the country of an evening, there is not much to do apart from read. There are those who drink themselves into a stupor but that was never what we did apart from a small glass of sherry or a malt whiskey on the rocks or with soda, we read and read and read.  Uncle had perhaps something like a few thousands of books both in his small bedroom off the verandah at Warana and in book cases around the dining and sitting room as well as the cook’s room down by the kitchen. My Uncles and my father’s reading centred around politics, history and sciences. Yes there was some literature but most of it was non fiction. The Shoah has some frightening stuff in it. I remember at about seven or eight reading about Josef Mengle the man who experimented on over 1500 pairs of identical twins of whom only 100 pairs could be found after the war. What was striking about Mengle was the anomaly of his personality. To those who had to assist him like Eptstein a Jewish paediatrician, he was quite mad with the power he wielded over the inmates. Often he was kind to the children he would later without a second thought kill and often painfully and with no remorse or concept of humanity. He amputated and removed body parts as though they were not part of a living creature and definitely not a fellow human being.  He was a monster maddened by the ultimate (so he thought) power of life or death over others.  Later he was to send a statement via a friend “In 1960 Hans Sedlmeier returned from Asuncion, Paraguay with a statement from Mengele that said, "I personally have not killed, injured or caused bodily harm to anyone." Mengele repeatedly insisted that he had not committed any crime, and that instead he had become a victim of a great injustice.”

The greatest injustice would be to allow such an inhumane creature to deny what he did to try and erase it from the annuls of history and allow him to go free without retribution. A man who once killed fourteen sets of twins in a day and dissected their bodies and also dissected the bodies of the still living. A man who drew a line on the wall of the children’s barracks at 150 cm and any child whose head did not reach it was sent to the gas chambers.

My mother is a non identical twin.   I often wondered about such a man and the lack of humanity and how a person who is seemingly intelligent could do what this man or indeed any Nazi did.

A Portrait of madness - creatures of the void.   They do not even look normal.

The results of their vicious and cruel work.  The monster sewed these two children together. The veins in their hands became gangrenous and they died in agony. Poor little angels.

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