The article was as sad as what it announced. It was a one inch news box in the local press. The last person known to have survived the Nazi death camp “Treblinka” had died.
In years to come there will be serial such announcements: Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Sobibor, Auschwitz, Mydanek and so on, and so on and so on. One day in the lifetime of the Boomer generation there will be larger announcement: “And then there were none.”
“Maybe it’s best” some will think. “So much sadness, so much misery. Shouldn’t we move on?” Certainly we will hear it in Germany, and Austria, in Poland and the Baltic States. It’s been heard already for years. This generation says, “Hey, it was awful, but I didn’t do it! Don’t guilt me for the irrational stupidity of my grandparents!” And there are those who will breathe a sigh of relief, those that many governments and non-profit agencies have been tracking globally. Once the victims are gone so is their testimony. The criminals literally get away with murder. “But,” it could be said, “enough of that too.” “So you put someone who’s 80, or 9o, in jail. How long are they going to last anyway? Hasn’t being chased from continent to continent, hiding in the shadows been enough punishment?”
Well by golly it sure as hell does matter! Not just to bring the guilty to justice. Not just to let the families of the victims have peace. Not just to say with a punctuation mark that surviving had a point, a purpose beyond just living and breathing. A question: “when the last of the just is gone will there still be the will, politically and philanthropically, to continue to educate?” One must wonder.
In the next section following the paltry news analysis was a far larger article about a survivor who everyday gets up to tell her story. Most times she gets up after a lousy night’s sleep, having tossed and turned while demons pursued her over jagged rocks, into dark corners from which there seemed no escape, towards the fires of hell where devils with pizza pie like trays beckon her with a smile and faces from within the fires scream out their warnings of agony. But she gets up. It is her duty to get up. Why? Because she survived and so many others, including almost all of her family, didn’t.
She tells her story, but that story will be missing important pieces no matter how riveting, no matter how horrifying, no matter how stupefying it is. One missing piece is the story of the children of the lost as well as those of the survivors, children who grew up seeing numbers tattooed on the arms of parents or grandparents, parents and grandparents who would not tell their stories, who awakened in the middle of the night screaming at the Furies, who were irrationally angry, irrationally afraid. But at whom? But at what? Others had to tell the children, and those children absorbed the second hand stories and now, 3 generations passed the ovens, they too had “issues,” Holocaust issues, even though many had never been to a country where there were camps no less been to he camps. And even so far as we know that “terrible something” has worked its way into the forth generation.
Most importantly what she says will miss, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” The rest of the stories are made up of many questions. How could human beings do that to other human beings? How does an engineering firm submit a proposal for a bid on a crematorium, a proposal that caused an educated person to figure out how many BTU’s were needed to incinerate a fellow human being, to figure out the thickness needed in the oven walls to enable it to burn bodies ’round the clock? Goodness knows.
What kind of parent raises a child who becomes an adult with the responsibility for recording all the freight carried by the national railroad and says nothing when he is asked to calculate an appropriate charge for human beings to ride in cattle cars? As the candidates at CNN’s town halls meetings are wont to say, “Good question! Glad you asked that one!”
Or the spouse who fills up a tumbler with the strongest libation in the house as the frazzled partner returns from up the road, from that place that fiercely lights the bottoms of the night clouds. Has that person no desire to ask? And if so is the answer, “Rough day dear, we couldn’t clear the ashes out fast enough to keep oven number five running at peak efficiency and the idiot who designed the building, “Mein Got!” open one window, one door and the blasted ashes blow all over and get into my pockets and cuffs—and oh, that reminds me dear, I need the stuff I wore today washed please.” And if that actually is an answer does that the one whose ears take it in want to puke that he or she sleeps next to this sociopathic monster? Does that person not want to climb up a hill and scream to the world, “I’m sick and tired and I can’t take it any more?!?” Good question….
Also missing from her story will be the impact of the research and programming developed on some of the answers to the above questions. The answers to those questions tell us important things–things that have nothing to do with the Holocaust, but everything to do with it. The research tells us about bullying, about ethnic cleansing, about cultural hatred, about genocide. Once there are none, will the research continue? Will the curricula continue to be designed and tweaked for each grade and the changing times? Glad you asked that one. Now see if you can answer it.
Clearly without a positive answer, the closer we get to “and then there were none,” the closer we get to someone else’s Holocaust. You doubt me? What happened in Serbia? What has happened multiple times in Africa?
Math makes this easy. Six million? Not so many. 90% of all Jews in a country? Pretty much. Four out of five houses in the neighborhood? Gee! Schindler saved 1,000 Jews. They have produced 11,00 progeny. The Talmud says, “He who educates one person, educates the world.” The answers to these questions, the answers to what is behind those numbers are critical to our survival as a civilization, at least from my perspective.