The Stars and the Ashes

I was somewhere around the age of eight when I first heard about it.

It was 1985 and a handful of us kids were crammed in a dark-paneled Sunday school room on a muggy, rainy Wednesday night. We couldn’t go outside, which was just as well, because my pastor’s wife had something to say.

She wanted to talk to us about good and evil. About people who lived and died in one of the most precarious and uncommon hours of history. About ordinary folks who insisted on defying  propaganda and the force of their current culture, because they believed in seeing people as God sees them: fearfully and wonderfully made.

About the Holocaust. And the Dutch Resistance. To make her point, she showed a film called The Hiding Place, based on Corrie ten Boom’s book.

Before anyone  mentioned the words “concentration camp” to us in public school, we learned them in a tiny rural Tennessee fundamentalist Christian church. The leaders of that church always insisted that valuing human life is a fundamental part of our beliefs–beliefs that do not change, regardless of our culture.

When I turn the TV on and see newsmongers selling bitter conflict to anyone who will buy into it, it occurs to me that taking up emotional arms against your brothers and sisters because of something on the tube — hardly a reliable source — is like reading the first step of a “Twelve Steps” self-help book, throwing it away, and then complaining that it didn’t work. And that is how propaganda works: it’s insecure, so it can only tell you half of the story.

I was in my teens when I first heard of enmity between Christians and Jews, and I learned it from television. It took me completely by surprise. Didn’t I, the ignorant backwoods Tennessee hick, know we were supposed to be enemies? Didn’t I know we were supposed to argue bitterly from now until the end of time?

No. I didn’t. I had no idea.

True stories like The Hiding Place are a reminder that our religious faiths–Jewish and Christian–have human faces, human families, human natures, and ancient roots. We carry within ourselves the potential to transcend the confines of fallacious stereotypes. Call me naive, but as yet nobody’s given me a good reason why we should be forever reduced to the Hatfields and McCoys of religion.

This is what keeps me up at night:  The Holocaust is exploited for political gain every day. Public figures, activists, and politicians cry wolf on every corner, unleashing the dogs of desensitization on the masses, downplaying true horrors by battering and deep frying them in partisan politics.

If books like The Hiding Place and Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl and people like Corrie ten Boom and Miep Gies have taught me one thing, it is this: turn off all the commentary and propaganda, and you just might hear your brother’s blood crying out from the ground.

It is the sound that stirs the world changers, the bridge-builders, the rescuers, the children of mercy.

So to the sons and daughters of Abraham, I do not speak for my predecessors, nor all members of my faith, and I cannot answer for all objectionable acts committed in the name of God. I only speak for myself, and I want to clear the air.

I do not hate you. I do not see you as an enemy.  When you tell your grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ stories, and those of your  aunts, uncles, and ancestors, I’m listening. I will join hands with you any day to remember, because it matters.

That said, I want to hear from the readers.
Let’s all be human together for once. When did you first hear of the Holocaust? Who taught you about it?

Please don’t compare Obama or FoxNews or Pelosi or Palin to the Nazis on here. The Holocaust is not our story to exploit or one-up each other in some political argument. It is their story, pure and terrible, and since it is true, it needs no additives.

Those are their yellow stars and ashes.


Inspired by The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, Anne Frank: The Diary of Young Girl, and the Whitwell Paper Clips project.

For Patsy Morgan, who always believed in building safe havens for the hurting.


23 thoughts on “The Stars and the Ashes

  1. Debbie says:

    I think I first heard about it in school, but really didn’t know or understand the breadth of things until I visited Auschwitz myself in 99.
    It was bitterly cold when our team from OneHope went. We stopped complaining about the cold or really about anything once we entered the premises. It was unfathomable that anyone should go through what we saw in those “museums” and survive. It even sickens me now just thinking about the smells, the memorabilia left, the conditions, the clothes that were made out of hair & bone.
    You can literally feel the oppression and the evil still lingering in the air.
    The thing that surprised me, is that it didn’t just affect the Jewish community, although they are the predominate people massacred in these camps. There were people massacred in the camps if they were Polish, Czech, from Holland, or from that part of the world that were not like the Nazis. They were persecuted for their race, sexual orientation and religion. Some were even ministers of the gospel.
    All of us left feeling sick to our stomachs. At least we had the choice to leave and never come back.

  2. TexasCommentator says:

    Thank you for visiting my poetry site on WordPress. Your positive comments was greatly appreciated. Your article gives such great insight to both a sad time, as well as a horrible time in our history. It is beyond belief that one group of humans would have brought such horror and pain on another group of humans. I have no doubt that God, in His plans for the human race, for Good to overcome Evil, and hence will Evil be forever destroyed.

  3. indyink says:

    Little Debbie, I plan to go one day and stand in the Brausebad myself to pay the fallen the tears they are due. Excellent comments.

    Texas, one surely hopes. 🙂 Thank you.

  4. dennisfinocchiaro says:

    Your writing has such a power behind it, I fell in love with the way you write almost immediately. Beautiful.

    As for The Holocaust, I learned of it from my father, a history teacher in his own right, on one of our many history-related trips. I remember him trying to explain it to me, a third grader, without scaring me. I was brought up to respect people and life. I am vastly impressed with your story.

  5. Susan Elizabeth Ball says:

    I don’t remember when I first heard about the Holocaust, but my mother read The Hiding Place to my sisters and I when we were still in elementary school (many years before it was made into a movie. I was raised by Christian parents who believe that the Jewish people are the apple of God’s eye and that God blesses those who bless Israel. Ironically, my father recently had his DNA tested and it revealed that we are of Jewish ancestry. It has given me a new perspective as I read the Old Testament.

  6. acleansurface says:

    I do not recall when I first learned of it, though it was most likely at school. This reminds me of a visit to a Czech Jewish cemetery/Holocaust memorial in Prague. I was there on a vacation and our guide brought us. The headstones are very close together and very crooked due to sinking, and there are names printed over the walls and ceiling of rooms in the building, representing all those who went missing. So many names. I felt overwhelmed. However, there were American teens who arrived in a large group (a mandatory trip from a Jewish school, I believe) who mostly wandered around joking, gossiping, complaining about Czech food and how annoyed they were to be there. The local guide was so upset by the large crowd and disrespectful attitudes he left and waited for us outside.

    • indyink says:

      I went to a recital where about 35 ballet dancers did a group piece for Holocaust Remembrance Day. One by one, each dancer knelt into what was supposed to be the dust and scribbled his or her name in the ashes to be remembered. Then each put their backs to the audience and undressed down to a flesh-toned leotard or shorts to symbolize gas chamber victims being forced to strip before death. It ended with a stage full of lifeless “nude” bodies.

      There was a reverent silence from the audience, with two exceptions: sniffles… and a group of teenagers/college students sitting right behind me laughing and screaming, “Yeah baby, take it off! Woohoo!”

      Desensitization… or something like it.

  7. somethingnewplease says:

    Very early time, no precise number. We’re going to DC for the museums! They have dinosaurs and they have space contraptions and there will likely be souvenir shops. There is also a place that seems strange where they talk a lot about one people killing another people and doctors and experiments and gas.

    I was a clueless, stupid child so I would realize the meaning of that museum years later.


  8. SkP says:

    Lets hope something like that never happens again … (and that things similar stop happening – especially in Africa :/)

    I probably first heard about it, when I was around seven – don’t remember the concrete incident – what I remember though is the first time I visited a concentration camp (Mauthausen) – that was a day one can never forget …

  9. screen_scribbla says:

    I was pretty old. Eleven or twelve I guess. I heard about it in history class. It didn’t make much impact, because I was growing up in Apartheid South Africa at that point; a time when the conflicts were at their most heated. I had a greater compassion for my fellow Africans of a different skin tone who were being tortured, shot and beaten all around me each day simply because they were of a different skin tone. And I was powerless to do anything about it.
    Later in my teens, there was a television series called The World At War broadcast. The images from the second world war – the holocaust, mass executions and mass graves – all brought the message home.
    And I fear it is happening all over again today. And very, very few people are doing anything to stop it from happening.

  10. lwarrell says:

    When I was in high school, I was part of an acting troupe who performed at a Holocaust memorial service. At that age, the Holocaust was a tragic piece of history, but I hadn’t met anyone affected by it. At the service, I met survivors and their families. Their stories moved me. But most moving was the rabbi’s plea to never forget and suggested young people were our only hope in never letting it happen again. That has stayed with me ever since.

  11. CommentatorandPoet says:

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  12. wendys says:

    I first learned of the Holocaust from my parents friends who had survived it. They had wanted to adopt me when I was born and back then when only the parents could see the newborns, they were allowed to see and hold me because they were my grandparents from the old country. The Seligman’s will always hold a special place in my heart. Although they never portrayed their numbers on their arms I do remember the marks and it wasn’t until sometime in elementary school that I learned the true meaning of what happened and my heart was broken for these special people whom God had allowed to be in my life for a time and a purpose.

  13. lesabrackbill says:

    I think the first time I heard about it was when we read The Diary of Anne Frank, I think in middle school (hard to say for sure). I remember being astounded that people could hate each other so much. Since then, I have studied that time period fairly extensively and have been fascinated (and devastated) by first-hand accounts of those times (books like Night, The Hiding Place, etc.). My husband and I finally went to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. in 2012 when I felt ready to experience it.

  14. Mary Jo McClelland Mueller says:

    I was certainly less than 10 and on a hot summer afternoon, I came across a black and white movie with William Shatner (very young and handsome) who I recognized from ST reruns. I continued watching and it got to the scene where they should tapes of the camps as the soldiers marched in. The movie was Judgement at Nuremburg. Once the movie was over, I asked my mother if the story was real and she confirmed it was. I grew up with many friends who lost family in the Holocaust and do not like it being appropriated by others for any reason.

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