Thursday, March 6, 2014

Holocaust Reflection : Reflection on Us

Visiting the Holocaust Museum is a difficult subject, especially in Israel. Unlike many museums which are houses of a people's history and triumph, this museum is a walk through a people's history and suffering. The Holocaust stands as a mark of identity for modern-day Jews just as World War II stands as a mark of identity for most Westerners of the past three generations (born 1910-1995).

We are now moving into the third and fourth generations past the Holocaust and WWII, where things such as “Nazi” and “Communist” and people such as Hitler and Stalin have become more of a byword than a warning for future generations. Many people are all too likely to associate government actions with the Nazi party and many people are just as ready to roll their eyes.

When visiting Yad Vashem (the site of the Museum) I entered with a reverent and somber silence, in my mind befitting such a chapter of our human history. I found it odd, then, to find teenagers in there laughing, boyfriend and girlfriend attempting to have an intimate moment in the shadow of child torture, or as some friends cited, a teenager goosestepping out of the museum.

This is our humanity: how quickly we forget, how quickly we stop caring.

As we all grow older and as time marches forward we find how chilling and correct these words are: “For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten” (Ecc 2:16a).
Part of the ministry of Yad Vashem is to give some sort of remembrance to the names and people who were lost.

It's easy to blame these kids, but such is the time, era, and maturity we all came from. Some grow up to recognize immaturity, others grow into immaturity.

One important lesson I took from the Holocaust and the museum is prefaced by the following statements:

1) Ordinary men and women did horrible things out of fear, vice, coercion, and sometimes all three.

2)Both religion and science were used as tools to carry out this exercise; any blame of one or the other would be dishonest and folly.

The important lesson to take from such a chapter of our history is to see ourselves in that history. This is not to see you or I caused the Holocaust, but to see how, in the human condition, vice and sin caused it, as it causes the greatest tragedies.

Fear keeps us from doing good, but vice helps us to spread evil. Many will say, “I haven't killed anyone, I haven't stolen anything. I'm a good person!” History seems to say, “Just give yourself a chance.”

How easy it is to call ourselves enlightened, intelligent, and wise in the face of such things. It would be unwise to see the little evils we allow in our own lives as “good” just because they aren't “really bad.” The road to great evils begins with tolerating small evils. In my mind the easiest source of determining evil begins with the dignity of the human person.

In any era and in any place the first people to suffer, in good times or bad, are the ones who are despised and defenseless. This can be the unborn, the abused, the poor, addicts, or the mentally disabled. Furthermore they can be, in the right circumstances, those imprisoned, homosexuals, religious, or even a-religious.

Many evils are carried out for greater goods or ideologies that don't need wrinkles—and while it's easy to blame religion alone in this sphere, anything secular or otherwise would subscribe to folly if they thought it was true.

Even more evils are carried out because we lack the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness. An open wound festers, but a bound wound has a chance to heal. I find that this is the hardest thing to learn: forgiveness and self-forgiveness.

Humanity likes to see itself in great triumphs and accomplishments, but it's much harder to look in the mirror when it's something disfigured and horrible. But in looking upon it there is also healing. In accepting the evil we do and converting from it there is progress.

We rightly pray this Lent for mercy because we need it, and we know we do. “My sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit, a humbled and contrite heart you will not spurn” (Ps 51:17).

This Lent say a special prayer for the many families and lives ruined or lost by war and evil.