A couple of weeks ago, a much younger person than I (and I might add an avid Bernie supporter) who did not know me particularly well, asked if I was “really” going to post something about the 75th Anniversary of the end of The Second World War… and more specifically, the liberation of the Nazi killing camps by both U.S and Soviet troops.
Wasn’t that “overkill” on the subject of The Holocaust and such, he suggested?
He was not being disrespectful but he was obviously oblivious to his word-choice.
“Ah, yes, absolutely, I will be posting” I responded. “I should be posting just before the 8th”.
“So why The Holocaust, again? No disrespect intended but are you Jewish”.
I was quietly wanting to go Charles Barkley on the young Millennial, but I recovered quickly enough and smiled.
“Well”, I said to him, “I do count myself as a man saved by Grace, and forgiven by my Savior who was a Jew but no, I am not Jewish. I am, in fact a genuine, Christian Church Mutt – raised Roman Catholic with side trips through the small “c” Catholic Episcopalian Church and a half-dozen Evangelical denominations and even a few “churches” on street corners, biker Pig Roast, and a few skeevy bars.
He looked puzzled. Understandably.
And yes, that was intentional on my part. I continued.
“As to the ‘Victory in Europe Day’ which we celebrate on May 8th, that is an important date for me. It happens that I had three U.S. Army Air Corps Uncles who fought over the skies of Europe; one who was shot out of the sky in his B-17 and spent a year in a German Stalag POW camp; another Uncle by marriage who landed in Normandy, fought and survived all the way to Germany; another Catholic, French Uncle who rescued and sheltered two Jewish families from sure death and is recognized by the State of Israel as one of the ‘Righteous of Nations’; another French Uncle, who I just learned survived the Dachau Killing Camp; and, I do occasionally have an adult beverage with my Official, 96-year-old girlfriend, who lives down the street. She was saved from the Warsaw Ghetto by a Christian family who sheltered her during the War.”
Now the young man’s face was a bit contorted in a look that said: “this guy is nuts and full of bullshale”.
Oh, how I love these “God-incidences”. No really. I love them. They come my way and now more than ever, I know all I have to do is roll with the truth and perhaps some good seed will be planted or watered. A very small “church” service on that day.
“You see, everything I have told you just now is Gospel truth. There is not a single exaggeration in any of this”, I told him. “And while my life has had its challenges, I am thankful that I have never had to face what these people in my life and in my family’s history took on.
“In every case, these were people just like you and me, people who had to choose or act under very difficult circumstances. That is the legacy and the gift they gave me. I must honor that. And because that gift was given to me, I am compelled to give it to you too and to anybody else who might read the CauseACTION blog.
So, yes, I will be posting a “Rich’s Rant” on the CauseACTION right before May 8th”.
Now the young man had one of my favorite looks on his face. It’s the look that did not require heavy-handedness or force. It’s the look you see when you have managed to till some earth and plant a seed.
As it happens, I had just recently finished moving out of our CauseACTION offices, as we had “virtualized” the CauseACTION Team some time ago. During the move, I had found a number of older “CauseCARD” postcards… and I knew I had just the right one to give him.
I scribbled my email address and phone number on the back. As he looked at the postcard image (that you see in this post) I could see another quick flash of confusion. It was understandable. It is not the usual image you see of this horrible place. But the quote, he understood immediately.
It is a quotation by a man who should still inspire all of us. In many ways, it is a frightening quote, because we tend not to think of ourselves and our new world as capable of such a thing. The truth is we are.
“I’ll have to find out more about this” he said, with a smile. He was not just saying it to polite. I knew he would.
“Great, that’s a good idea. And I trust that when May 8th rolls around next year, you will remember on that day and every day, that you have a choice as to how you will respond and act when you are a witness to injustice, no matter how small”.
“You see, the man who wrote that quote, Elie Wiesel, had survived both the Auschwitz and Buchenwald Killing Camp. He would go on to write three extraordinary books in which he would painfully delve into his experience and he very much argued out loud with God about it. No really, he argued with God. as was the great tradition of his Faith
I got another slightly-odd confused look. Good.
“Here is another shorter version of that quote that is easier to remember:
‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.‘
“Lest we forget, we must each choose every day not to be indifferent. Too many have been victimized as a result of indifference. Yes, sometimes you just don’t know what to do. Or it is painful and embarrassing. That is precisely the moment to act or at the least to pledge to act later. And if you do make that pledge, you must act. The abuser, the tormentor that Elie Wiesel speaks of, acquires and maintains their power because others fear challenging them.”
And then, I got the slightest of nods. Not the nod of “sure, get me out of here” or a mechanical nod of absolute agreement but the nod of seeing something you had not seen before… all started over May 8th.
As I finished speaking with him, I shook his hand and said: “We do not agree on some of the politics we started this conversation with but I am happy for the outcome. You and I have crossed paths in a good way. Keep a sharp eye out for the many opportunities you will have to speak up and act. Do it. Never, ever be indifferent.”
And now, please watch the video below. It was released by Vad Yashem this past week and triggered this Rant. It is a reminder to us all that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. And it is a reminder that the “Liberators”, most of whom are gone now, were also Survivors.
We must never forget that. There are all around us on this May 8th, 2020 all kinds of Survivors and Liberators.
CauseACTION Team Leader