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