London Hero – World Heroes 2

Millennium Bridge London

Before you begin, please read the first part of this series at:
London Hero – Holocaust Heroes

It takes a great deal of courage for the National Theatre to include a play of such depth, about an era which the world should hope never to repeat – the Holocaust – especially at this Holiday time. But, that is the topic which “Our Class” deals with. And, with more thought, it actually may be very appropriate for the Season when all Christians are supposed to be striving for “goodwill towards all”.

Since the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, West Irian and East Timor have been allowed to run unabated, and they happened after the Holocaust, maybe we all need to re-examine our lack of involvement and outcry and holding our governments accountable for their inaction, or late action, too.

These were the same behaviors which allowed the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks in World War 1, Stalin’s massacre of 20 million Russians and the Nazi genocide of the Jews, gypsies (Rom), handicapped people, homosexuals and selected, helpful Christians they captured in WW2.

Have we learned yet? Maybe “Our Class” can help.

You can attend the play in London’s National Theatre until January 12, 2010.

In this 4 star rated play, Polish playwright, Tadeusz Slobodzianek, confronts his country’s involvement in the atrocities of the last century and follows the one-time classmates – via weddings, parades, births, deaths, emigrations and reconciliations – into the next century.

The play is powerful, focusing on the normality of everyday as a powerful lens. Every family knows that one’s child’s friend / classmate is like a member of your family.

So, the play introduces you to a group of schoolchildren, Jewish and Catholic, who do all the things of childhood. They declare their ambitions: one to be a fireman, one a film star, one a pilot, another a doctor. They are learning the ABC together. And, this is Poland, in 1925.

But, as the children grow up, their country is torn apart by invading armies, first the Soviets and then Nazis. This havoc foments pre-existing internal grievances and antisemitism deepens as fervent nationalism develops.

Friends betray each other; violence escalates. Until, finally, most of this country’s “ordinary people” carry out an extraordinary and monstrous act that darkly resonates to this day — the planned murder and extermination of their neighbors, en masse — for no other reason than they were Jews and that gaining their land and wealth was easy pickings.

A child remembers ‘the crowd was standing round laughing and joking as they watched us. I knew them all. They were our neighbors.’

Such torture is the most blatant example of a totally perverted relationship, where the individuals are bound together in fake intimacy; either by a calculated crime or a mere casual, callous act of indifferent violence.

This is an unwilling marriage of memory. The deep psychological and physical wounds of the victim and the nagging dreams of the perpetrator commemorate for each person the dreadful moment they came together — one with choices, the other with none.

This resonates so powerfully with me, as my paternal grandmother and grandfather endured the “pogroms” of the Russians, Ukranians and Poles earlier in the century, and when those nation’s audacity was not stopped by a world out-cry, they were then willing again, becoming accomplices to the Nazis.

In the popular view, perpetrators are very different from the rest of us; they are casually seen as heartless, cruel, and beyond the pale of civilized society because of some fundamental lack of humanity. But, now we know that is not entirely true, for deep within many of us is a great capacity either for indifference or for evil. Both are what we have to fight.

Empowering ourselves, being brave, being willing to act; that’s what’s necessary. Times are again uncertain. It’s important to be inclusive, as much as possible.

When you travel and when you are at home, learn about people and culture who are newly in your midst. Do so with an open-mind. And, do everything you can, and more, when you know something is not right, wherever you are.

One comment I read, which I agree with, distinguishes the Holocaust clearly from all other “ethnic cleansings” and genocides:

“The atrocities of ethnic conflict today (e.g. Bosnia) are described in terms of death camps and genocide. But this use of terms borrowed from the Holocaust betrays a poverty of language.

The Nazi achievement lay not in building barbaric prison camps or seizing villages through expulsion and terror. That is an old story, terrible but old: the story of ethnic war.

The Nazi achievement lay in constructing an industry never before-or-since-seen. An industry of continental size complete with: railways, death camps, gas chambers and crematoria. An industry whose raw material was Jews and whose product was corpses.

[I add: the Nazis used the Jews’ bodies for “products” e.g. their hair for pillows and upholstery; stole the fillings from their teeth for the metals; used them for barbaric and unjustifiable medical experiments; never spared the children; used the young women as prostitutes and killed them when they became pregnant while never offering birth-control methods e.g. douches; took skulls and skin and turned them into decorative items for “show” in the homes of high-ranking officers; used skilled Jewish artisans and when their job was done, killed them in an instant (I lost several members of my family this way) etc. etc. etc.]

Now, in an age where victimhood carries high status, the Jews are much and grotesquely envied for having suffered the greatest crime in history.

Hence, we see the attempt to “universilize” the Holocaust by saying:’It was a war against the Jews, but it could be against any other nation”.

[That’s just not true. As the Jews, as a displaced people for 2,000 years, were always the leading scapegoats, anywhere, as well as being the intelligensia, scholars, doctors and were always “envied” for that industriousness as well as for their wealth and innovation, in spite of the huge social strictures placed upon them, in lands not their own.]

The suffering of others, later, does not require the diminishment of the Holocaust. When one does, one re-victimizes the [original] victims. One becomes an apologist for Hitler and indeed all evil.

The Holocaust is not an event in History. It is seminal [a vital Lesson] for all mankind.”

And, don’t ever wonder what just ONE Good person CAN do!

Here’s what one man accomplished. This is my second example of a World War 2 Holocaust Hero, Britain’s Sir Nicholas Winton, 100 years old now, who only recently was knighted when others finally learned of his bravery. He was awarded the Czech Republic’s top military honor, too.

As a ray of hope, now 70 years after the events, as the older generation of perpetrators and victims are almost gone, somehow, more is being done to take personal responsibility by this next generation and successive ones, never to let this happen on their watch. This is the source of real Hope.

“Our Class” – National Theatre, London
Holocaust defined

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