Lessons from the Holocaust

The Lion of Judah cover
The Lion of Judah cover

Thursday night, Noel and I watched the very moving documentary called The Lion of Judah.  The documentary follows Leo Zisman, a Holocaust survivor now living in New York City, and his journey with several young Jewish men and women to visit Auschwitz (including Birkenau) Poland.  He uses the opportunity to explain his experiences to the group, and the filmmaker takes the chance to interview younger Polish locals, other Jewish visitors, and a Polish historian, as well as the non-Jewish videographer who accompanied the group.

To see some of the sights this group experienced is sobering, and Zisman (I feel) is very good at explaining his experiences in ways that everyone can relate to.  It is a documentary I would recommend people watch because, as Noel pointed out, the last Holocaust survivors are becoming fewer and fewer; thank God we live in an age where their experiences, wisdom, and insight can be documented for all time.

One of the interviewees, a Colombian woman who recently converted to Judaism, accompanied Zisman and his group to the concentration camps and memorials, and a statement she made stuck out to me: we see pictures of these places, like the gas chambers at Auschwitz, but they really don’t impact us until we are really there.  Originally, I said to Noel that pictures don’t do a place justice sometimes, but reflecting more on this now, I realise that there must be such a strong aura or presence of sorrow, dispair, and death these places hold that pictures cannot capture either: only the more sensitive of us can pick up on these things.

The Holocaust primarily impacted Europe’s Jewish population, and their suffering, deaths, and losses should never be de-emphasized or marginalized.  But there were other groups affected by the Holocaust as well.  Gypsies, dissenters, Soviet prisoners of war, the mentally ill and physically disabled, Poles, Slavs, Serbs, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals, just to name a few, were all victims of the Nazi ethnic cleansing movement as well.  While Jews were made to wear a yellow Star of David, homosexuals were made to wear a pink triangle, which the homosexual community now uses as a badge of courage, in a way.

My great-grandmother, a Russian woman who married a German man, grew mentally-ill with (I think) was some form of schizophrenia.  The Nazi regime took her to the Hadamar Clinic (now, years later, officially revealed as the Hadamar Euthanasia Centre), where she and approximately 14,000 others were killed or starved as a part of the Nazi’s T-4 Euthanasia Programme.  Even typing it makes part of me very angry and another part of me extremely sad.

Watching The Lion of Judah, Noel kept asking, “How can people do this sort of thing to one another?”  It’s a very good question, and the Holocaust wasn’t the first or last time humanity has seen this sort of campaign.  Post-Holocaust: The Killing Fields in the late 70s after the Cambodian Civil War.  The Bosnian Genocide during the Bosnian War in the 90s.  The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 as a part of the Rwandan Civil War.  The Darfur Genocide during the War in Darfur in the early 2000s.

And this year, there’s Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law, which would see some gays and lesbians killed through state-sponsored genocide and others face life in jail; this can easily pave the way to state-sponsored genocide.  Nigeria appears to be following suit with anti-gay legislation.

So, we swing back to the lessons the Holocaust can give us today.  In The Lion of Judah, the focus of Zisman and the filmmakers is predominantly on teaching younger Jewish people about what happened.  Personally, I would have rather seen Zisman and the filmmakers take a diverse group of people (black, white, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, gay, straight, et cetera) from various nations to Auschwitz and Poland to speak about his experiences and encourage the diverse group of people to celebrate their differences and stand-up to violence against any group.  Let them learn through living history.  These people could be ambassadors of sorts, spreading the message of tolerance and acceptance to others in their communities and government, so humanity can at least try to prevent something like the Holocaust happening again.

(The big questions we need to ask ourselves as the human race right now is… Why are we not fighting harder to stop Uganda from passing this Anti-Homosexuality Bill?  Why can’t we force Syria to stop the bloodshed?  Why can’t we make Israel and Palestine sit down at a table and make them find a workable solution to their conflict?)

If we don’t learn from our past, it’s doomed to repeat… And one thing we should be striving towards as the human race, whether you personally like a certain group of people or not, is ensuring everyone has a good shot at having the best lives they possibly can, without fear, hate, bigotry, violence, prejudice, segregation, or intolerance.

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