Monday, December 15, 2014

"I Did What Everyone Else Should Have Done"

A few months ago, a friend and I went to the Holocaust Museum here in DC. We both love learning about World War II, it was much needed adult time. We have both been before, she had been a few years ago and I hadn’t been for 6-7 years! 

For those of you who have never been this is a very quiet museum. People aren’t running around and yelling. I’ve never heard someone yell, most people whisper or talk quietly. The museum is set up in a way that you don’t wander around, you take an elevator up and work your way down.  There are (and should be) few children, personally I think no one under 10-12 should go. 

They have several artifacts and pictures, for me it’s the artifacts that make it real. The dolls, letters, bracelets, the shoe exhibit, and the video of survivors telling their stories. 

Anyway, there were certain stories that caught my attention. In all the hatred, death, and need to survive there were still good people. People risked their lives and families to save others, revolts happened it concentration camps, people would not be silent.

The room of shoes

It got me thinking. What would I do in these situations?

What would I do if I was in a concentration camp starving and barely surviving? Would I worry about my survival and conform to save my skin or would I still demonstrate kindness and help others survive, or revolt in hopes to save everyone.

What would I do if I was in a position to help? Would I tell someone to go away because if I was seen with them it would mean death for me? Or would I open my home and do what I could to help the person, even if it meant going to a concentration camp or death for me.

Ivan Vranetic born in 1927, helped to find shelter on farms in Topusko and other local villages. He himself had to hid in the forest, sometimes for days to save himself. He described his motivation “I think it must be in upbringing…I had feelings in my heart that I had to help.” 

Arstide de Sousa Mendes (1885-1954) saved 10,000 people. In 1940 people were stranded in France were seeking visas to Portugal. The Portugal consul general told him to not issues visas, he refused to obey. 

Stefan Raczynski lived on a farm near the Ponary forest. 1941 the Germans used this as an execution site of Jews. 40 Jews who managed to escape found sanctuary on his farm. “It was a natural thing to do… When the Jews started coming from the forests and they were hungry, we gave them food and didn’t think anything of it.” 
Room hidden behind the wall used to hide Jews
Arie van Mansum (born 1920) was a traveling sales men he began to find hiding places for Jews and forge ration cards, as many as 250 a week. He visited these hidden Jews regularly. He was arrested in October 1943, he was in solitary confinement for six months before being sent to Amersfoort concentration camp. “There was nothing special about what I did… I did what everyone else should have done.”

Revolts happened in Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Jews in Warsaw carried out an armed revolt. January 1, 1942 leaders in the Vilna ghetto underground issued a call to arms: We will not be like sheep lead to the slaughter! True we are weak and defenseless, but the only reply to murder is revolt! Brothers! Better to die as a free fighters than to live by the mercy of the murderers. Resist! Resist with your last breath!”

Gates to Auschwitz

So many were silent in the time when they needed to speak up.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did no speak out-
because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.”

--Martin Niemoller, he was imprisoned for resisting Hitler’s regime. 

What do you think you would do? Would you conform? Would you stand up? Survive? Die?

So while we remember those who lost their lives, we need to remember those who fought to save lives.

Those who spoke when no one else would.