Sep 06 Remembering the Sobering Lessons of the Past in Today’s World…
As much as I love numbers and find comfort in facts, History has been an on-again-off-again friend in my life.
I’m never mad at History or want to permanently un-friend the study of the past but I often forget to call or write. Sorry History, but sometimes you put me to sleep with your dates and timelines. You don’t catch my attention with your monotone PBS news hour voice…
For me, I often need something more for history to come alive. But last year WWII showed up with a FB friend request and the newsfeed keeps pulling me in…
Exactly one year ago this month I was in Amsterdam for business and was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the Anne Frank museum. I have no pictures from the tour but I don’t need them. My mind and soul are imprinted with the experience. I have the video footage readily available for instant recall. The size and smell of each room feels so close even now…
It is remarkably universal for adolescent girls to hang pictures and cut outs of handsome men and enviable women on their walls. Anne’s are still there, exactly as she placed them. I saw those movie stars and American models from decades ago and could instantly feel where she was in her development.
Even as she hid away in the hopes of saving her own life, she dreamt of what was to come. Even as she spent the daylight hours in silence so they wouldn’t be detected – no sunlight, no running of any water, no moving around, no using the bathroom – she imagined her future and used her words to keep living her life through her diary, all while life stopped. No school, no doctor’s appointments, no girlfriends, no contact with the outside world other than the occasional magazine tucked into their secret food deliveries.
It was a gut wrenching experience. It was an important experience. How could it be that this sweet girl, her sister, her mother, and millions of others perished in the name of hate? It brought WWII out of black and white and into color.
I found myself searching for more History.
Since that experience, I have read several fictional books that are set during WWII. They have continued to illuminate this horrific time in our existence with stories that use characters crafted from the author’s imagination to give a personal face to the dates and timelines and facts. There are so many sides to every moment in history that we will never run out of angles and perspectives to explore.
The learnings never fade. The lessons never lessen. The legacies never die.
Today when we open our news feeds and turn on our televisions and see hate and discrimination spilling out in front-page news, the past is even more critical to remember. It is a harbinger of what is to come if we let good people suffer because they are different from us, if we seek a homogeneous society, if we buy into superior races or religions or orientations. Hatred left unchecked can build over time into something unfathomable. The fringe can grow into a faction and before you know it, the unthinkable is set in motion. The lines are crossed and reversing the course is brutal and costly.
We must all be vigilant and keep the outliers on the outside. We can’t turn a blind eye or assume someone else will do the dirty work of standing up to hate. History can sometimes be boring and sterile with its timelines and facts but there are also stories hidden in those lessons of people that suffered and lost more that anyone should ever endure. Sometimes it takes a fictional character or a visit to a historical site to bring the past back to the future…
If you are a woman and you are remotely interested in the female perspective during this time, read this book. It is intensely heavy and it will cause tears to stream down your face at times but it will also make you proud of the unbreakable strength that lies within females to do scary work. Mothers and sisters and wives will go to the edge to hold the world together. And they will never ask for credit. Survival is enough.
All the Light We Cannot See
First of all, this is a beautifully written book. An author who wins the Pulitzer Prize is undoubtedly a master with the written word and I loved every bit of this book. If you ever thought ‘how could they’, this book gives you a peak into the systematic power play that trapped good people into doing bad things. The varied perspectives give us the gift of both sides and the reality that there were so many victims on all borders. Hate is an ugly business and no one is left unscathed.
In a move to bring real characters to life through a fictional depiction, the first novel by Martha Hall Kelly gives us the stories of strong willed women from three different countries experiencing WWII drastically differently. At different life stages with different skills, they are all dedicated to their chosen career and craft. And they all carry duty and family connections, particularly to their mothers, as a directional sign for their actions. For some this is a blessing and for others a weight that will bring life stalling heartache.
This is a youth novel that my 11-year-old son chose from the library and I decided to read it along with him. It follows one boy from Poland through the atrocities of concentration camp after concentration camp. Based on a real person, I believe this was the first time my son grasped that the penetrating brutality of WWII does not seem of this world. While it was graphic and true to the crimes of places like Auschwitz and Buchenwald, it was appropriate for a younger reader to bring one boy’s story to life.
Reading these books is heavy lifting.
While they are all fiction, the basis is factual. They are History books illustrated with the pictures of the human conditions of oppression, terrifying fear, unending torture, and the damage left in the wake of hate and fear mongering. We must not look away from this unpleasantness because there are lessons in these events. The greatest predictor of future behavior is the past. We cannot assume that the events of our past will not show up in our future. We owe it to the millions that have suffered at the hands of hate and discrimination and say ‘no more’.