Sunday, April 11, 2010

By the Waters of Babylon

Today marks the start of Holocaust Remembrance Week 2010. In a way, considering the unthinking brutality we, as a species, have visited upon one another since the dawn of time and we started to walk upright, you can be forgiven for wondering why commemorating the Shoah is only a week.

It was on this date in 1945 (Western) Allied troops, technically the US Army with (about) a Canadian brigade, liberated Buchenwald, the last of the Nazi death factories. As a child growing up, I'd heard whispers by the Post World War II grown-ups, many who'd served in the wartime military about the camps, never grasping the enormity of the horror.

While living in (West) Germany I went to Bergen-Belsen (there was a huge NATO tank competition range near there at Fallingbostel) where, even decades after the horror, the early summer sky never seemed as blue overhead as it did on the landstrasse leading to Celle and where I never saw an insect of any kind or heard the song of any bird.

Science dictates they had to be there, in this place where Anne Frank and her sister, Margot, died of typhus, two of the over one hundred thousand people who perished in captivity for the crime of being different. I felt foolish offering you a link on Anne Frank as you know who she is, unless you don't, which then beggars all logic for the establishment of a Holocaust Remembrance Week in the first place.

Intolerance and hatred of the other has a long history within the human race. Some have speculated the first tool fashioned by the earliest man was a weapon to kill his neighbor. I'd suggest the Shoah marked the successful combining of primitive, superstitious and mindless hatred with the unfeeling, uncaring and antiseptic precision of the Industrial Revolution. In a perverse, and reverse, triumph we had, ourselves, outmachined the machines in dispatching those unlike us with a uniformity and consistency never before seen in our history on this planet .

That it continues to happen, across our actually very small planet on a daily basis, in a variety of ways so numerous and subtle we often don't actually feel the hate, brings me to the brink of tears. To have come as far as we have-we, the self-anointed Crown of Creation, and still be able to stoop so low. To be so willing to harness the ingenuity and intelligence of millions of years of evolution and education in the service of the most venal and loathsome of all of our emotions is to stand naked before a world whose judgment we have chosen to disregard.

"There on the poplars, we hung our harps; for there our captors asked us for songs. Our tormentors demanded songs of joy. They said, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!' O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us. He who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." And thus begins the cycle again, never to end. -bill kenny

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