Yesterday was a ponderous day for me.
While that really should mean it was a slow moving day, it wasn't. It was a day that made me think hard and reflect on several diverse things. I was glad I watched Food, Inc. because it meant I could have another day to process my thoughts before I wrote about my visit to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
My wife is a teacher of the German language, so we visit the country often with her students. On one of the trips, we went on a trip to Buchenwald. There are two lasting impressions I had from that trip. The first was the all-pervasive silence that hung over the place. It was eerily silent - almost as if nature itself was in perpetual mourning for the atrocities that took place there. The second was the reaction of the students to the place. For the most part, the students were able to last about 20 minutes before tehy felt the overwhelming need to go outside of the camp and sit - it was all too overwhelming.
I write about that experience to give a little context about what my experience has been with dealing with the subject of the Holocaust - so that when I let you know the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educational Center is a moving experience, I do not say so lightly.
The main exhibit of the museum does a very thorough job of giving the history of Hitler's rise to power and how the Jewish people (and other minorities) were increasingly robbed of their civil rights. The narrative continues through the enactment of Hitler's final solution, the Allied victory, liberation, and the forming of Israel. There are several artifacts scattered throughout the exhibit, as well as video of survivor's memories of what was happening at different points in the history narrative. I think this record of first-hand accounts is one of the most important things.
The exhibit ends with a film showing some of the atrocities that are taking place today. It was a very important link to let people know that atrocities like this did not just happen in the past. The docent made a very clear point during the course of the tour that there is no such thing as a by-stander. True neutrality is something that cannot be obtained. If you are neutral during such events-you are simply enabling the atrocities to continue.
Also with this tour, a survivor came in and talked to our group about her story. It was very moving...she lost a whole lot during the course of her life, but she was so thankful to be in the United States now. There are also several different galleries of art. Some we were able to visit, others we did not have time to.
As something like this always does - it made me think. It made me think about what we as Americans - or just citizens of Planet Earth - treat with indifference and allow to continue - when it should not. Starvation in all places of the world, homelessness, genocide in places like Darfur, the fleecing of different families because they cannot afford health care...the list can go on and on. If we continue to treat in with ambivalence, what will happen?
I will end my post with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a member of the German Resistance and a theologian. In one of his writings he said:
"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."
I think that is something we all need to remember.