My career has afforded me the opportunity to travel- and for that I am very grateful.
I have been to many places and I have seen much natural magnificence- that fantastic tapestry that is the natural world. I have also seen museums, art galleries and even in more humble surroundings, showcases to man's ability to create art and objets d'art, that are truly a testament to that side of ourselves that can create extraordinary expressions of beauty.
I have also been to places that have moved me, deeply, realizing that although myself and those around me have been blessed, there are people and places that are not so fortunate and that trite expression, 'not so fortunate' cannot even begin to describe the chasm between what we know to be true about suffering and what we take for granted.
I have also been to places that can best be described as a gateways to Hell. Those places are so awful, so horrible, that one cannot help but be changed by them.
Auschwitz, in Poland, is one such place.
There will be much written and said today, throught the blogoshere and in the media, about the Wansee Conference, that gathering of evil people who decided, in a very clinical way, that a people were to be exterminated, for no other reason than the fact they existed.
There are many people today, who will write about the Wansee Conference and offer up wise words and ideas of what that all meant.
I will not be one one of them. Instead, I will talk about what I have seen, on my own, in my travels.
No matter how well one thinks they understand the horrors of Aushwitz, no matter how well read on the subject they may be, no matter how many old newsreels and photographs they have been exposed to, nothing- absolutely nothing- can prepare anyone for what they will see
Imagine a large industrial or chemical plant complex. Then, triple or quadruple the size. That is how big the killing factory was. Make no mistake- it was not an internment camp- it was a death factory.
One and a half million Jews perished in that camp alone- of that number, half a million were children under 16 years of age. This is not an exaggeration or calculation. By their own admission and record keeping, those who perpetrated the evil, have told us so. These numbers do not include the millions of Poles and others put to death in Auschwitz.
After a while, you get used to the size of the place. You become numb to what transpired there, as the numbers become even more incomprehensible. The reality of those exhibits and the remnants of real human lives force you to divest yourself from forming an attachment to those lost souls. The mountains of shoes, eyeglasses and even battered old hats become no more than curiosities. It has to be that way, because if it we didn't have that defence mechanism, we would be unable to cope.
There were medical 'experiments' on twins, the 'less than perfect' and a host of of others, done in that Place of Darkness. I will not go into that. It was my intent only to remind you of that. Those of you with children, myself included, cannot shut out those sounds, that still resonate in the silence. It is the most terrible sound I have ever heard.
The Russian steppes are places of magnificent natural beauty. On those steppes, 20 to 30 million (no one really knows) people were killed. They were killed because they were in the way. There are whole towns and villages, that once existed, that are now gone. The towns, villages, and the inhabitants are all forgetten, never to be remembered, by anyone. They were killed not because of who they were, but rather, because they were in the way- by the same people with the ideologies that casually decided that a whole group of people were to be exterminated.
It wasn't just Jews that were singled out for extermination. Gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally ill were all 'inferior' or 'depraved- and thus were to be eliminated as well, with equal zeal. The difference was that the perpetrators of these crimes chose to publicly single out the Jews- the scapegoats of those who offer nothing but evil, throught history.
Late last night, I had a converstaion with a friend. We talked about the similiarities and differences that people share. We talked about values- those universal ideals that are not tainted by ideologies. The best of those ideals are what bind us all together, in families, societies and cultures. We may speak different languages, eat different foods and listen to different music, but in the end, there are noble ideas that are universal and help us live up to our potential. To abandon those ideals is to embrace evil and indifference.
There have been killing fields the world over- Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Darfur, just to name a few. We have allowed that to happen, comfortable in our existance and far removed from those tragedies. We are happy being blind.
Post Holocaust, is that blindness the legacy of Christianity?
In the Middle East, whole cultures and societies that had nothing to do with the Holocaust, embrace the evil doers and celebrate their crimes. They, who should have the moral superiority to chatise the Christian world for our inaction and self imposed distance, choose to identify with evil- so much so, that they teach it in schools and echo the hatred in political and religious milieus. We see the celebration of murder and evil on a scale heretofore unprecedented. We hear it daily and say nothing. We have this need to 'negotiate,' it seems, with evil. We cannot seem to take a stand. History repeats itself.
Regardless of the politics, can we really say that societies and cultures that willingly and publicly embrace that evil are moral equivalents? They are not. We must address that reality. We cannot allow that to enter the geo-politcal debate. Left unchecked, that evil will eventually manifest itself.
I visited Auschwitz on a rainy day, the ground soaked and soft underfoot. The grass smelled sweet, fresh and inviting. I remember quite clearly, the sucking sound of my shoes in the mud. It was as if I were being tempted to focus on something else- anything that would take my mind off of the Place of Darkness.
I remember looking down at my now muddy shoes. For a moment- a very long moment, the grass was red.