I wrote this essay awhile back for a scholarship, it was only after completing it that I realized I was just a few months to old to submit it. Sad day. Oh well, I liked writing it. So enjoy!
“Joy runs deeper than despair”
Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman ‘accused’ of helping Jews during the holocaust spoke this phrase after months in the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp. How could that statement come from a woman who saw her sister and father killed by the Nazi’s? This can’t be a common theme, hope. Yet I see these fragments of light scattered throughout the bleak history known as the Holocaust.
Hope is not a word that would often be equated genocide; yet without it the prisoners would have perished in greater numbers. There is a single quote scribbled on the wall at Auschwitz shows us this truth: “I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent”. This simple phrase whether read by a religious person or not, is moving. It shows the vision of a person imprisoned and that even when faced with the savage brutality of men filled with hate, there can be resistance to evil.
Walking through the halls of Yad Vashem I feel this resistance in the air, I see it emanating from the Jews that touch the walls with tears streaming down their faces. The haunting pictures that line the hallways of the memorial stop my heart. Yet, as I walk something catches my eye. A tattered yellow star is sewn onto the back of a young man’s coat, his dirty hat covers a face that holds a smile. Could it be? I stand with tears in my eyes in awe, he stands in the midst of suffering defying it with a smile.
I who has not endured near the suffering of the 11 million victims of the Holocaust can easily speak of hope. Yet to see it staring at me causes me to falter. His eyes don’t show fear or pain though he is thin and his clothing torn. How?
Yad Vashem shows many faces. Most are sad, pale and thin. Yet like diamonds in the rough I see smiles. I see that joy runs deeper than despair. As I leave the building and feel the sun on my face again I remember the quote from Auschwitz and realize how fortunate I am to see the sun shining.
Later in the day I notice a small crowd walking in a graveyard. The tombstones stand as defiant memorials refusing to succumb to the brutality of time. They stand strong in memorial of their person, holding the names for the benefit of future generations. The crowd advances to a particular grave, they each pass by putting a small rock on the flat tomb. Some are weeping, some kiss the rocks before setting them down. I wait from a distance realizing that the ceremony I am observing is one of the deepest gratitude.
As the people file away I advance toward the grave, hundreds of small rocks are piled on and around this particular grave while its neighbors stand empty. The name reads simply: Oskar Schindler. I now understand the emotion. The sacrifice made by this German Industrialist is surely one that deserves recognition. These rocks serve as a sign of gratitude. Maybe the small crowd ahead of me would not have been alive but for this man.
While some try to forget this bleak period in Jewish history, others know that they must remember. Yad Vashem showed me I must remember history, and that those who deny and try to forget are the ones who will someday repeat the atrocities committed.
With this weighing heavily on my mind I return from Israel and notice it is very easy to see the history of the Holocaust even in America. Escaped prisoners found solace in these lands, some reuniting with family, others starting anew. The history runs deep even here.
I pass a man at a market place. He is working and his sleeve slides up, the numbers forced into his skin are clearly seen. He seems embarrassed by them and pulls down his sleeve, quickly glancing around in the hopes that no one took notice. I hold back the tears as I walk away, he should wear those numbers as a badge of honor. Those numbers identify him as one of the most courageous and enduring people alive on this earth and although it was a shame what was done to him the shame is not his to bear.
I think back to the small amounts of persecution I have undergone in recent years, it is nothing in comparison. I proudly wear my Star of David, and while I am sad for the continued hatred, I am always proud when I get a remark towards being a Jew. I have had people refuse to speak with me in the past, for no reason other than them noticing my Star of David necklace. How people can be so petty and hateful after seeing what it has produced in the past, I don’t know. Still I am glad that I am on the side of it that holds no blame, one that is hated simply for being in existence. Because I know there is no fault of my own for being reviled, I can hold onto that hope I spoke of. The hope that allowed Corrie Ten Boom to speak of joy in the midst of sadness, that allowed captives to smile regardless, and that hope that kept the people of Israel alive. Hope in the midst of adversity. Hitler’s future showed no hope not only for the Jews, but for any person who was different. He had a thought of robotic ‘perfection’ that squandered every difference that makes the human race fascinating.
His ambitions did not work well for him. Before his brutality Israel was scattered all over the world. The last thing he intended was to unite the Jews, and yet that is what he did when Israel became a nation again after the war.
In speaking of the Holocaust, we need to show reverence. It is a time in the history of the world that cannot be looked on lightly. So many years later we still feel the acute sting of its brutality. The pictures that have surfaced from Ravensbruck and Auschwitz show gruesome details that we would like to ignore yet cannot. We need to look at the pictures and see the depravity of men bent on destruction. We also need to realize that no matter what adversity comes our way, there is always hope.
Unfortunately there is mass genocide in Darfur still today. There are people in the Sudan who are killed for simply walking in the wrong place, people in North Korea who are murdered for wanting freedom. We have learned what it takes to rise above the tragedy of the Holocaust and persevere; but knowledge is nothing if not followed up by action. It is time to use history as a guide and change the future.
In closing, I would encourage people to remember: joy runs deeper than despair.