As I walked slowly through Yad Vashem, taking in – yet again – the history of humanity’s immense cooperation in the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people, I could not help but draw connections between the strategies of the past and similar strategies adapted for the present. The Shoah (Hebrew for holocaust) is unique in its massive coordination of industrial, civic, cultural, and institutional means for the purpose of mass murder. The build-up to Germany’s expansionist military and comprehensive campaign of dehumanization is strikingly parallel to the build-up in the U.S. prior to the invasion of Iraq, and alarmingly similar to the rhetoric now laying the groundwork for bombing Iran.
Young conscripts for the Isreali Army also happened to be touring the museum at the same time. My spine chilled to witness this part of their indoctrination as much as my heart sank at the documentation of sheer brutality. We humans can yet do no better?
Remember only that I was innocent
and, just like you,
mortal on that day,
I, too, had had a face
marked by rage,
by pity and joy,
quite simpy, a human face!
I was inspired by the Jewish Youth Organizations: Almanac of the Defiant Ones – Ha’-Ma’apilim (1944), Irgun Brit Zion, Akiva(h) Youth Movement, the Hahulutz Halohem – “The Fighting Jewish Pioneer Youth Organization, and Drov. Will it remain the burden of youth to save us from adult folly? The Righteous Among the Nations are also a source of optimism. Despite their relative small numbers, that they existed then allows the possibility that more of this breed of human being could exist today. Bulgaria (did you know?) saved most of the their Jewish community, as did Denmark, the LeChambon-sur-LIgnon region of France, Italy saved 80% of their Jewish community, and an organization in Poland, Zegota, also saved Jews.
The Nuremberg Trials, which I’ve studied somewhat for their use of live interpretation, decreed three particular and distinctive types of crimes:
1) crimes against humanity
2) war crimes
3) crimes against peace.
Despite all the musuems, remembrances, memorials, and daily current events, few of us seem willing to do the work necessary to make peace. Are we all so satisfied with “the breaks between pain…..[that somewhat resemble] happiness”? (Imre Keresz, Fateless).
I am death, the gardener death…
I bring deliverance from grief…
I am the warm and cozy nest
To which an anguished life at last can fly.
I am freedom and festival,
the last and best…
Come. Take your rest.
libretto: Petr Kien
music: Victor Ullman