Friday, July 5, 2013


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Earlier this summer I watched the six-part BBC series called Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution. And then I re-read Elie Weisel's holocaust autobiography Night, followed by another concentration camp memoir entitled I Choose Life written by Sol and Goldie Finkelstein, relatives of my neighbor. I can't say why, exactly, I devoted a week of my summer to thinking about World War II and Nazi Germany, except that there are certain historical moments that each of us feels drawn to, as if it's our moral responsibility to remember.

Around the third time Jeremy asked me why I was spending hours watching and reading about the horrors of the holocaust I had to remind him that however dark the subject, there are benefits to going there. I think I said something like, Okay, maybe not your first choice for Friday night entertainment, but ordinary people like us are the ones who need to study Nazi Germany the most! 

I copied down the following passage from the Finkelstein's autobiography in one of my notebooks:

When we arrived in the United  States in November, 1948, I was amazed by the absolute freedom of movement. You didn't have to carry an identification card. You didn't have to tell anybody where you're going, or why you're going, or what you're doing. If you have money, you can go wherever you want. No borders. No passes. Nobody stops you. And the streets were very safe. In those days, you could walk at 3:00 in the morning in New York and nobody bothered you. If you wanted to eat, there was a restaurant open. If you wanted milk, there was a store open. Life was so open and free. But the people born here had no idea what it meant to be free (113).

I don't know about you, but sometimes I forget what it means to have the freedom of movement. When I was nineteen I walked to the local market in Ufa, Russia to buy sugar and the market vendors shrugged and said, No sugar today. Sometimes I forget that how it is right now is probably only a brief, wondrous reprieve from the hardships of other times and places. The history of our world is mostly cruel and sad. There have been times in nearly every civilization when people were ripped from their homes and sent away to die, when children were tossed and kicked about like livestock, when families didn't mean anything and the length of your life was determined by strangers.

Yesterday was nearly perfect. The wind was still, the sun wasn't too hot, and I sat beside a lake and watched my children splash each other and rake their fingers through the sand. Later on, I was sitting among thousands of Rapid's soccer fans when the game ended, the stadium lights darkened, and the night sky exploded with fireworks. As I watched the fountains of light in the sky disintegrate into fire flies, and then pixie dust, I couldn't help but remember Auschwitz. Perhaps most of us don't truly comprehend what it means to be free, but we can think about it. We can remember. We can feel grateful to all those who have gone before us and who continue to make sacrifices to protect our freedom.

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