Sunday, February 19, 2012

Among my unpopular opinions ...

Disclaimer: I am going to catch hell for this post.

The artifacts at the National Holocaust Museum are not part of the permanent collection. They are on loan from Poland. Did you know? I didn't. Many of those loans have expired, and Poland wants the artifacts returned. I say yes, send them back! By all means, we must honor that promise.

The generation that lived through WWII and all its horrors (I include Hiroshima and Nagasaki, also all the heinous things that went down in Russia, in the horrors) is now dying off. Soon there will be no one left who personally remembers the Holocaust. To me this signals an opportunity to shift gears, to take the next step in healing from those terrible events. Hanging on for dear life to the horror of it - forever - is not healing. It isn't.

I believe what is remembered, lives. So what we remember is the worst of it all, allegedly so we will never repeat that experience. It doesn't help me in any way to think only of the most grisly details. The soul of Germany was completely destroyed after WWI. People were starving, there wasn't enough to eat, there weren't enough young men with both legs to work, to get the country back on its feet. When we humans are struggling for survival, we tend to look for the Devil. I see how it is that Hitler came to power and it freaks me out. When people are desperate, their judgment is affected. I don't see the German people of that time as wholly evil. They were fighting for their lives; when someone came to power who felt confident to point the finger at the Jews, I see how it was that people bought that evil lie. The entire country suffered a psychotic break.

This is not about me forgiving the Holocaust! What I wish is that we could begin to look more deeply at that era, find wisdom, compassion and healing from the events that occurred rather than furthering the horror, remembering the awful details from the camps: the piles of shoes, the hair, the bunks from Auschwitz. People tell me these artifacts are powerful reminders, but to me it's like passing a gory wreck on the highway, stopping to gawk. I do not see that this serves a positive purpose. In fact I believe we dishonor the people who wore those shoes by focusing on how they were tortured and killed while forgetting how they lived, the world they inhabited, before the war. I know, I KNOW ... you're going to let me have it now, hey?

Likewise I wish every museum in the world would return the spoils of excavation, send the mummies home along with the objects they were buried with originally. We've seen them, we have photographs. Let the mummies rest in peace. I abhor the desecration of ancient tombs and I think we desecrate the memory of the people who died in the camps by staring lasciviously at their teeth, their shoes. It makes me sick.

I wish to honor the victims of the Holocaust. I would love it if the museum became a library, a place to learn and study. The pictorial archives of the world that existed before the Holocaust are fascinating and life enhancing, tucked away in the library on the fourth floor of the museum. I love the library in the museum! The archives make me feel hopeful and happy. I have never been through the main exhibit as I know only too well it would make me want to throw up. There's no way that would help me in any way.

People say that remembering the horrors vividly in some way makes us better humans. I've had many an argument over this. No one has yet convinced me that this is true. We are still practicing genocide, aka "ethnic cleansing" in many areas of the world today. Has it really helped anyone to exhibit these sad objects? I think there was a time when it was important for people to learn these details, but that time has passed. Send them home, I say. Let's take the next step towards healing. Please?

L'chaim, and shalom.


ellen abbott said...

I couldn't agree more Reya. I have never been to a Holocaust Museum though there is one here. I read The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich in high school, saw all the grisley details, read about the horrors and I got it. I have felt no need or desire to revisit that particular horror. If one has never read a history of the Holocaust or been to a museum then perhaps one should just once. It's important to know how depraved human beings can get (and you are right, have we really learned anything sine it still goes on?). And I agree about the German people, they were as much victim of Hitler as anyone. Anyone with a conscious who spoke out was just as brutally murdered, never knowing when it was your door they were going to knock on. Towards the end they were sending boys out to fight because all the men had already been sent. And like you say, the people were starving. And yes, the horror of the atomic bomb. If you want to claim heinous actions then point the finger right here. This is the only country that has ever actually used an atomic bomb against people and we did it twice. And poor Russia, they lost something like 24 million people. It wasn't just Germany that went psychotic.

X said...

I am going to Germany for healing soon. I dont really want to go there, never was interested in visiting Germanor store. For all the reasons you describe and more. I don't speak German only a little French, ancestors came from Alsace Lorraine, my father served in the US Army in WWII in Germany. He talks sparringly of his years there. But there were atrocities, murders, harsh conditions that broke social and moral conventions. War.
Not far from the doctors office and the guesthouse I will be staying in is the French border, and the resort town of Baden Baden, and to the east Dachau. I will not likely return to Germany and I think it may be the only time in my life I am close enough to see one. My first thought is it's my duty to witness if I can. Germany's first concentration camp, whichmurdered 32,000 people compared to Auchwitz' million. Dachau first specialized in political opponents before diversifying into imprisoning and murdering Jews, gays, Roma, and others. It was also the training center to train other concentration camp managers, such as Auchwitz'' first commander. And a grisly medical experimentation lab which we all know of.
I find it more than ironic that I am leaving America to go Germany with it's barbaric past. Yet it holds the future for me, having nearly exhausted American medicine and healing. I think there is a greater lesson in this than just my personal story. I think it's emblematic of this new age where people cross boundaries to speak and learn from each other on the Internet. I hope it means in countries free to the Internet the Holocaust could never happen. We can get to know each other to counter filters of racist propaganda.
You say you will be criticized for arguing for the return of anonymous personal effects of victims to Poland.
I concur, sadly, but I support your opinion.
I think we only heal individually and in the collective by choosing positive, healthy, life affirming activities and visions. At some point we must move from mourning even if we are unsure of our path.
Our complex task is to balance the learning from these atrocities with the recognition.
While it is unhealthy to dwell on ones illnesses and pains, one must analyze illness in order to determine how to overcome iti. Does examining negative murderous images help us to recognize the Holocaust or to rectify the conditions that led up to it?
There must be a positive reason and outcome to our focus. We must envision a better world, better health. Engage in personal and communal neurofeedback to change the way we think about problems and find novel mind-body-spirit solutions.
I have decided not visit Dachau. I do not think it will help my healing Instead, when I feel up to it , I hope to head to the baths in Baden Baden, baring my middle age naked self to the unknown.
But more importantly I will suspend disbelief and hope to learn in Germany new ways to heal.
We all must learn new ways to heal too, the old ways are failing all of us, doctors and patients alike.
It begins by turning our backs on the old ways and striking out into unfamiliar territory with hope (and an IPhone).

Reya Mellicker said...

Germany is a wonderful, progressive, fantastic country now. I love it and my German friends who are mindful, conscious and anything BUT barbaric.

Auschwitz too began with the imprisonment of political activists. The Holocaust started with the old and very ill, people who couldn't work, for whom there was no food. Initially the Germans wrote loving letters to the families about the deceased. The whole story is convoluted, fascinating and really damn frightening.

Elizabeth, you are going to LOVE Germany and Germans. They're wonderful.

steven said...

reya i sincerely hope that this post is seen for the act of loving kindness that it is . . . . steven

Reya Mellicker said...

If you, Ellen, and Elizabeth see it, Steven, then that is enough for me!

Vintage Green said...

I also agree, send the items back home. What good is remembering if we don't move on?
Thought provoking post, thanks.

Linda Sue said...

Total agreement! And the Holocaust Museum - as I have said before, Can't even be on the same street as that museum without nearly losing consciousness, a physical reaction like life seeping out of me. When I was in Germany for a quick drive though I couldn't WAIT to get out of that country! So uncomfortable, though the food was nutritious and the sheets were clean...the folks friendly and awesome...the countryside beautiful, even if I had no knowledge of the horror I would have felt uncomfortable there, I think. Needs more time and healing, I guess.
So agree about museums and countries getting their stuff back! Like jungles getting their animals back and the tundra getting their wolves. But that is a different conversation, isn't it.
Great post, Reya!

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Linda Sue and Vintage Green. Usually I catch serious hell when I write about this. Something really is shifting. Thank goodness!

Steve Reed said...

OK, OK, I'll take the plunge and disagree! I understand what you mean about healing, Reya, and I don't think you're entirely wrong. It's natural to want to put this behind us.

But I think the genocide of World War II was SO unusual and shocking in its calculated, methodical execution by an "advanced" Western country that it bears continual remembering. And the display of those relics is crucial to that remembering. There are people today who don't believe the Holocaust occurred -- I doubt the relics will change their minds entirely, but seeing the evidence with their very own eyes might at least make them question their misguided certainty. I think there will always be war, sadly, and always hatred and fear and perhaps even genocide. But I'd like to think that genocide will never again be conducted in such a cold, efficient, calculated, mechanized and ruthless manner.

This isn't about punishing the current population of Germany, by the way, which I think everyone would agree is now an entirely different nation.

I do admire your courage in tackling this subject, though. I hadn't heard that Poland wants the artifacts back. That must place the museum in a precarious position?!

Reya Mellicker said...

There's a link in the post to the WaPo story, Steve. I'm so glad you spoke for preserving the artifacts. Variety of opinion is the spice of life! And I greatly admire and respect your thoughts even though I see it differently. We both want to honor those who died and keep in mind how very wrong things can go in difficult circumstances.

Reya Mellicker said...

The link doesn't work. Will try to fix. It was in the WaPo a couple of days ago.

Kerry said...

I feel the same way about the desecration of tombs and the stealing of artifacts for display to the curious. There's a kind of terrible voyeuristic quality to this. I try to put myself in the place of a survivor who lost everything through the Holocaust. It would be healing to set aside the awfulness of it all, and move forward; I think that's what most survivors had to do.

But still it nags me that a sort of forgetfulness sets in, and with forgetfulness comes the repetition of dreadful mistakes. Could horrific reminders of the Holocaust have helped Germany stay on a better path for the past 6 decades? It's hard to answer questions like that. I don't know, but I do think that your positive, strong, and compassionate attitude towards all of this is a huge, healing step forward.

Angela said...

Hi, here is one of Reya`s German friends speaking. I am of the after-war-generation, but I still grew up with the hidden untold stories of my parents`and teachers` generation. At school, I actually never learned about WWII - somehow my history teachers managed to avoid it. How could they have answered our questions? Can you imagine that the "young" Germans (I am now 63 and far from young, but still born into a completely different world than before or during the war) are just as speechless about what had happened in this our country? After the involved teacher-generation had passed, all the young students have been encouraged to study and think and wonder. How was this "break in culture" possible, what led to it, what can we learn? You won`t find many Germans nowadays who are not ashamed and feel terrible about the crimes that "normal people" were able to commit. Is our human cultural development so thin that propaganda and poverty can turn us into monsters? How easily are humans tempted to steal from their neighbors? In my opinion this proclaimed hatred of the Jewish people had a lot to do with jealousy and envy. The Jewish population in Germany was known for their intelligence, their style, their wealth.
As even some of the old families return to their home towns nowadays, we young ones see what we have lost, and we welcome them whole-heartedly. And even them, they love to be back home, can you imagine?
If anyone wants to write to me, I will be glad to answer and exchange thoughts. My mail address is mail at angelaschmidt dot com.

Angela said...

Did you see that my comment is Nr. 13?

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks, Angela. I was hoping you would put a word in here. Much much much love to you!

Jo said...

You are exactly right on all counts, Reya. Well said!

By the way, atrocities have been committed by all societies. Just a quarter mile from my house is a trail now owned by the Weldon Spring Conservation area. It's nothing more than an abandoned rural road now, but it once was an active thoroughfare to a prosperous little town, Old Hamburg, made up of German immigrants and settled in the late 1800's. During WWII, at the height of anti-German sentiments, the people of this town were given just a few weeks to vacate their homes, taken over by the U.S. government "to benefit the war effort." A munitions plant was built where the town of law-abiding civilians had lived.

I sometimes think we throw stones at glass houses in order to take the scrutiny off ourselves.

Thank you for tackling some very hard topics, Reya.

Reya Mellicker said...

Jo - thank you for weighing in!

I decided today to go through the main exhibit at the museum. I never have, and if I'm going to periodically rave about it (I can't help it) I should at least know what I'm talking about!

Prince Kwame Nana said...
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