to Magda Brown
When I was very little, most schools in Czech Republic had what used to be called the “Hall of Traditions” and it was a space dedicated to memories of the WWII. Once or twice a year there would be a ceremony remembering the lives lost and the suffering the nation endured. I don’t remember much from that era, except for the photographs that have been haunting me ever since: Sometimes I always ended up standing on the left, too close to the authentic photograph display on the wall depicting children from Nazi concentration camps, specifically Auschwitz – Birkenau. There was one boy specifically whose hollow eyes I will probably never forget, even though the display is long gone; the new government considered Halls of Traditions a “communist” tradition and as such they were abandoned.
I learned about the horrors of Nazi concentration camps much earlier than I probably should have. We all did. Czechoslovakia was one of the first European countries taken over by Hitler and the Nazis, and the country remembered the 6 years of the “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” well. Most of my friends had grandparents who told stories; my favorite substitute teacher, a sweet old lady, was in Theresienstadt as a little girl with her mother (they both survived).
As a sensitive child with a vivid imagination I tried to fight nightmares by devouring every book related to concentration camp I could find – fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, you name it. What I was looking for is hard to tell. Maybe I assumed that knowing more would make it less scary. Maybe I was just trying to make some sense of it. Maybe I was trying to learn how to survive should anything like that ever happen to me. I honestly have no clue. But I spent a significant part of my childhood reading about things that no child should know about. My peers were reading Nancy Drew. I read the biography of Fania Fénelon .
Fast-forward many years ahead (and no, I won’t write how many, so those of my classmates who are constantly trying to guess my age – tough luck!) and here I am, getting psyched after founding out that there was going to be an Auschwitz survivor, Magda Brown, speaking on campus. Despite of knowing so much about that damned camp (when I was little, I could draw the layout of the place out of memory) I have never met a true survivor in person and let’s face it, there are not that many of them around anymore. So I went, I listened, I cried a little bit, and I put a new name to my imaginary list of my personal heroes.
But apart from the honor of meeting Mrs. Brown face-to-face, there was another reason why this even was so deeply significant for me. It made me realize how strongly is my self-education about Holocaust linked to the struggle with the thin red line I described in one of my previous posts. The older I get, the more passionate I feel about protecting human rights, and as such have zero patience with my neighbor who promotes racism, xenophobia, sexism, religion intolerance, and all other forms of oppression the human mind comes up with. Because we need to realize one thing, people: Even in case of such extreme events like Holocaust, THAT’S HOW IT ALL STARTED!!! I don’t expect most of my American readers being too educated about European history, but trust me on this one – the anti-Semitism in Germany started SLOW, okay?! Hitler did not appear in the middle of nowhere and ordered building of the camps right away. No, the German nation was desensitized step by step and it started with things that many of us still consider harmless, like for example racial jokes and “funny” caricatures in the newspapers. And that’s how our attitudes start changing, when this notion of “us against them” is fostered and nourished by the media, by politicians, by celebrities, by the WHOLE society. Throw in an economic hardship for which someone has to be blamed - and you have a new disaster on your hands.
That’s why Mrs. Brown, who as a lady in her mid-eighties could certainly use some rest, keeps touring schools and telling the kids about the dangers of bullying, because yes, as much as it might sound unbelievable to some, the connection between that and her Holocaust story IS there, you just need to listen for it. And that’s why I made a decision to stop being a Little Miss Sunshine and to speak up every time when someone starts marginalizing and ostracizing innocent people who didn’t commit any other crime than being different from the mainstream. True, I don’t particularly want to be known between my friends as a fanatic who can’t even take a joke and who is constantly challenging someone; despite of my strong personality I like getting along with people! But if I need to become bitchy for the higher good, well, I can do it too...
Because if there is one thing the history teaches us, it’s this: The price of silence is simply too high. And I, for one, am not willing to pay.
The photo was publicly accessible on Internet. Source: www.triblocal.com