43 – Is it a boy or a girl? and writing September Songs

Surprising discovery

We are only correct sometimes, and it’s oh-so-much-better to know when we don’t know.

During a return visit to Nahariya’s Lieberman House Museum in July, I learned something crucial about the sculpture that had opened the rush of Grandma memories described in Blog 40.

How do I say this?

Ummmm

The sculpture was a self-sculpture by Alexander Kirzner. I checked and double checked, but it’s not Alexandra. My Grandma sculpture was a MAN!

Sorry Grandma.

Is it a bit too much reality to say this? After a certain age, men’s and women’s features become more androgynous.

When first examining the sculpture, it did cross my mind that it could be a man, but the seduction of delicious Grandma memories made the simple, Crucial!, fact irrelevant.

After my moment reorienting to the sculpture we’ll now call Grandma Alexander – instead of Grandma Edith – I began my appointment with Mia, the Museum’s manager/historian extraordinaire. She filled me with more than two hours of history and stories of the region’s characters, even her own family’s experiences as early settlers.

Mia’s around my age, and her parents are among the few who survived Auschwitz, afterwards immigrating to Israel. Still going strong, her mother takes art classes and produces beautiful oil paintings. We looked at old time photos of early pioneers tilling soil, building first markets, etc and Mia told me about them as folks now in their 80s and 90s, some as strong and sharp as ever. Others, not so much.

I could have sat all day listening, but alas, other visitors arrived. Her stories were a gift to me, hopefully my enthusiastic attention a gift in return.

Finally, I’m accepting one-time encounters for what they are, and not imagining that I’ve made a new friend. Our connection as teacher and student was fascination with the lives lived and the region’s history. Also, my only conversation-of-substance for the day.


some mistakes are just plain Cute


Last Spring, I planned a trip to visit Poland in the first week of September.

Specifically, the Warsaw Ghetto, Schindler’s Factory, and Majdanek and Auschwitz Death Camps.

You’re asking:  Why?!?!?

Simple. I felt it was time. And yet there are many reasons.

Consequently, in June and July I was compelled more than ever to immerse myself in the Courage of the sufferers, the Spirit of the fighters, the Kindness of the non-Jews, and as much as I could bear of the cruelty of the Cruel.

Yad LaYeled (translates loosely “hand to child”) is a Children’s Museum extrordinaire with fascinating videos of survivors telling their stories of childhood years. Some hid or were hidden by gentile families or in convents. Others tell of feral lives alone in forests, with other children, or with strangers united for survival. One described as a girl spending her days in a large, covered pit with men and women sharing a bucket as toilet without privacy, not enough room for everyone to lay down at the same time, waiting until darkness to stand, receive the day’s food and water. . .

A different child’s voice filled each area of the spiraling downward museum. Each exhibits’ photos, memorabilia, and visual displays is narrated by a child reading authentic diaries and letters of children from that era. The floor’s notable decline and sense of “going in circles” gives a bodily experience to what was happening as the story is told: normal life morphing with initiation of one restriction after another. Jews can’t sit in the park…work as a physician…attend school…enter this store…

My heart split into two:
  1. The young writers’ description of life’s changes under the Nazi regime
  2. The post-war boys and girls of various ages reading the letter or diary of a child their approximate and age – a child who most likely didn’t survive the war. How could the readers not be affected by these first-hand accounts reeking of fear, confusion, and loss?! An earlier generation of children suddenly forbidden to go to school or music classes, accosted on the street, fathers losing jobs, forced moves into squalid, impossibly cramped conditions – Ghettos – starving and imprisoned in their own city. A few writings described the train rides without toilet facilities or water, and life in the camps. How could reading for such recordings not have been a dramatic experience for these post-war children?

 

“A million and a half children perished in the holocaust. Only tens of thousands survived in the forests, in hide-outs, with non-Jews who saved them, on city streets, and in hiding places throughout Europe. This exhibit focuses on the children who survived the Holocaust. It describes their emotional and geographical journey, as well as the role of survivors, youth movement members, and volunteers from Eretz Israel who stepped forward in order to return to these children something of their lost childhoods, to light a path of light for them so they could find their lost  faith in people, laugh, sing, play, create, learn, and believe in a better future, one that was worth living.”

Each exhibit has a video monitor offering visitors Hebrew, English, or French subtitles of the testimonies of survivors. I guessed these people ranged from mid- 50s to 80s at the time of the recordings, from all walks of life. The speakers’ styles and speaking skills were deliciously Non-Hollywood Genuine in both monologues and interviews.

Telling of being hidden, their facial expressions in the recordings flash the confusion of the child they were at suddenly living with strangers. Most mention being forbidden to speak of their real family, adapting to a new name and even pretend to be Catholic, not Jewish. These Grandparent-aged men and women’s faces portray their early years’ vulnerability. While some describe episodes of miraculous timing, most of life seemed about emotions screaming “Panic!”

Depressing?

Their courage, and those who helped are the stuff of life. Fertilizer on roses… The cruelty of mankind is history, and still there are roses:

People who love and sacrifice for others

I choose to honor the victim’s lives by not protecting my heart from their suffering. What disease could I possibly be exposed to in learning of their lives? How can words begin to touch upon the magnitude of their experience?

Learning about them is one way I honor who they were, much like I try to learn about a new friend’s life.

Extreme Sport? I feel more alive when connecting with the Real life of others, and that must by definition include both sorrows and losses as well as successes and joys. It’s not about me, but about them.

What’s depressing is to think only of My Life. One drop in the bucket. I love knowing, one way or another, a few of the other drops.

The specifics blur because I have never retained dates and geography and couldn’t pass a history exam, but I know the people’s stories – those I’ve “met” – even if not their names. “Self,” I say, “You don’t have to learn everything. There is no exam, and if people think you’re a dummy because you don’t know names and dates, well, so be it.”

What expectations or standards have you released yourself from, for the good?


Whose September songs do you know? Frank Sinatra? Earth Wind & Fire? The Tempo’s? JD Cooper?

September Songs is the working title of blog #44.  Why? There are countless “September” songs about love and loss and hope, so it’s seems the perfect title for recounting Poland, the first week of September.

Try Google-ing “songs about September”. You’ll find memories and unfamiliar, and hope and loss . . . that’s what I experienced in September’s journey through Poland. Don’t fear that you’re not up to it because it’s a Good journey.

See you in September Songs

42 – Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Museum

Finding music is an unexpected gift. Stop-and-Smell-the-Roses moments season the day.  Click here if below is black:  https://vimeo.com/235023646

So many days have Moments of funfilled surprise and wonder, along with Sadness, even suffering, that sparks thought…revelation, and growth. Balance. 

Is it like a balanced diet?

Sadness doesn’t have to result from learning or seeing sad things. While not the Chocolate of life, others’ sorrows nourish me with courage to LIVE well.

Because of the worlds’ history, war museums abound, and the suffering represented couldn’t be further from my own life’s dramas. Still, I choose to go. To hear their stories, and respect their lives by remembering. To look at baby shoes, wire-rimmed glasses, a silver-handled hairbrush.

Learning about them, I learn about myself, and am changed.

Driving north of Haifa, along Hwy 70, is the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum. I’d not heard of it, but the sign called to me from the highway, so with each passing I’d mentally re-add it to my list of “to-do”s. Finally, last July I visited. It was more than worthwhile; it was timely.

After an hour or so on my own, I happened upon an English speaking tour guide brilliantly leading a group of 40 or so American Jewish 16-20 year olds. I’m not sure about the etiquette of these situations, but am not too proud to tag along at a respectful distance. I was absolutely her most engaged listener, although the students were attentive, even participating.

At first opportunity, I introduced myself and complimented her skill. There was a time in my life I’d try to listen without getting “caught” and would certainly not have introduced myself, fearing it was inappropriate. Perhaps it is, but most seem to appreciate a compliment, and hopefully my low profile is not distracting. Someday, we – you and I – should compile a list of things we do now that intimidation or timidity forbade years ago. Could the earth bear such a list?

I can’t help but think how different my life would have been


“Collectors Car”   from 70’s? Tell me if you’re an officianado


Here’s the museum’s link:  http://gfh.org.il/eng/?CategoryID=229

One of many take-aways from that visit was learning that Holland was not the great rescuer of Jews that I’d thought. Anne Frank’s story tells of food and supplies being provided by loyal, brave Dutch gentiles. Corrie tenBoone’s Christian family was murdered for hiding Jews. Post-war testimonies of surviving Jews told of help from good Dutch people in assorted venues. It seemed that something exemplary had occurred in the Netherlands.

However, decades of research has revealed that the voices – the lives – of disproportionately many many more Jews were silenced by the “good Dutch people’s” overwhelming cooperation with the Nazi regime. Disappointing as it is, the evidence is that Dutch citizens, police, and government cooperated with the Nazis far more than initially presumed.


I finally found the answer to a question that has nagged at me since learning of the Holocaust as a child: Why did the Jews cooperate?

Surely I missed the answer in countless movies and books and museums and lectures… But, instead of wondering what’s wrong with me that I didn’t “get” until now, I rejoice that finally the answer resonates within. “You’re learning and growing. Good job.” I tell myself, rather than chastising, “what a dummy.”

With Dutch cooperation and brilliant strategy, the Nazi leadership introduced their evil restrictions to Holland’s Jewish population. Gradually. Beginning with minor freedoms (is there such a thing?), the Jews adjusted to new laws imposed by the regime, one prohibition at a time. Each new one surely the last.

The frog doesn’t jump out of the kettle if the water is heated slowly.

Systematically, they lost their place in the life of the community until basic survival became everyday’s challenge, with humiliation on the street and betrayal by friends and neighbors. I can only imagine the hopelessness.

Finally instructed to pack supplies of diapers, clothing for several seasons, essential household items, and valuables, most Jews complied and reported to the trains as assigned. Grieving their losses of home, livelihood, liberty, and dignity, they accepted “relocation” by the German Occupiers. Little did they know they were being relocated from LIFE.


When is knowledge complicity?

When should I intervene, or look away?

A parent’s harshness seems brutal in the subway. When is it abuse, and what is my role?

Two girls pocket (ie, steal!) candy in the market. Is it right for me to speak up? To whom?

The world seemed shocked by what had happened in the camps but (too) many powerful people knew.  I found this TedTalk fascinating  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2PQCNQH2lY

The unspoken truth is that much was known about the death camps years before Russian and US soldiers took the famous photographs. Who could admit they knew and did nothing, under the guise of “minding our own business”?

It was more comfortable to say they had no idea, but now we have too much evidence otherwise. Certainly not in entirety, but 10s and 100s of thousands murdered should have been enough, to do more . . . so, I recycle to WHEN should I speak up? What is my role with a stranger?


Refocusing on Holland, many wonderful Dutch people risked their lives by hiding and helping Jews, assisting escapes, taking-in children, etc. But too many Jews were betrayed by their neighbors. The Dutch police and other authorities’ participation with Nazi regime edicts resulted in a far greater percentage of Holland’s Jews being sent to camps than any other nation.

This link has more specifics: http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp412.htm

Having admired the courage of the Corrie ten Boom story since I heard her speak as a college freshman, I resisted reconfiguring my impression. I’d still rather think that the sacrifices of Corrie’s family and other good Dutch people earns the reputation for the nation. But, resist as I might, the facts prevail. Their good deeds and sacrifices are still HUGE, but they were a too-small minority.

I must be truthful with Truth, I’m doing my best to be honest, both before the mirror and God.


Assorted documentation included films of disturbing interviews. I’ll give you Only one example, lest you fear having to endure more than you can bear of this painful topic, and leave in search of clips of Robin Williams or Lucille Ball.

⇒One former Dutch police captain answered questions about conducting round-ups with a shrug, “We were following orders. . . it was a nasty job.” My heart screamed at his abdication, “Where is your humanity?!?”

Yet again, my response compels me to the mirror. “Where is YOUR humanity?” May God reveal my attitudes to me. And, make my heart tender where it’s sharp, stronger where it’s weak.


Finishing the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum, since I had a trip to Warsaw scheduled for the first week of September – working title is “September Songs – blog 44” – I soaked in as much as possible of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Here it is in a nutshell:

Team 1: Several hundred Jewish resistance fighters, mostly teens and young adults affected by years of malnutrition and deprivation, wield sticks, Molotov cocktails, and too few WW1-era guns with insufficient ammunition  AGAINST

Team 2: Several thousand well-equipped and nourished troops of the German Army.

It took a month for the Germans to overcome the defenders, and that only by burning down the area, building by building.

The young Jews faced the reality of the death camps and chose to not go as lambs to the slaughter. Their courage fills my empty tank for the ridiculously incomparable tiny feats that my days sometimes require.

Had she been alive to read “ridiculously” in the above paragraph, my wise friend, Penny, who spent over half of her life as a quadriplegic, would have gently chastised me. It was she who taught me better than anyone else that each person’s sorrows are their own, very genuine sorrows and that there is no place for comparison. Even so, how can I but compare?

May we find the courage to spend our lives on the Good