Whitney Jones
Vero Beach, FL


 

Even though they cannot be seen, they live among us. Though we cannot hear them speak, their voices carry indignant and yet at times pitiful cries against the great injustice that the world handed them at such a young age. Their pleas for help ring out to all nations. "Do not forget us. We are the hope for the future, and only we can illuminate the path of reconciliation toward your brethren. We are the children of the Holocaust." Through their writings, often offering wisdom beyond their years, these children left some of the richest contributions to literature. Their simple language and poignant words exemplify a hope and strong belief in the human spirit’s ability to dominate and overcome the rapacious Nazi spirit of malevolence and contempt. They teach us to allow ourselves to be receptive to emotions and feelings – in doing so we will become more acutely aware of the human condition, thus opening ourselves to feeling love and compassion toward our brothers and sisters of the world. Ultimately, the children’s writings instruct us on how to show the world the path of reconciliation to our global family.

The Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s spread a thick blanket of frost over occupied areas of Europe. Locked under this thick, suffocating blanket of icy hatred and bitter resentment, Jewish children were especially victimized. They were not offered the same opportunities to grow under the warm, nurturing sunlight or misty rainshowers of childhood experiences as other children of the time were allowed to experience. Instead, many of these delicate young creations simply withered and died, their thoughts, feelings, and contributions to the world sealed in eternal dormancy under the Nazi frost. Throughout these disparaging conditions, however, some children managed to keep a determined hope for the future. Their writings contained a plan for the world that was far different from the plotted Judenrien existence that Adolf Hitler’s writings described. These children simply wanted to live, as expressed in one poetic legacy left anonymously: "Upon the threshold full of dust ...Trees flower forth in beauty ...The sun has made a veil of gold/So lovely that my body aches ...I want to fly but where, how high?/ If in barbed wire, things can bloom/Why couldn’t I?/I will not die!" (Volavkova 77). Other poems show not just a longing for one single child to live, but also for the Jewish culture to thrive, as illustrated in the poem "I Am a Jew," by Franta Bass, a child imprisoned in Theresienstadt: "I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever...never will I submit....I will never be ashamed of them,...I am proud of my people…I will always come back to life." (57). These courageous children refused to give up hope when relegated to a subhuman position under Nazi control, and they are a testimony for the human race to heed in times of trial. They, who were faced with death with nothing to shield them from it, still found solace in the hope of living just one more day. Ultimately, they understood so well the guiding principles which all children must adopt to ensure their own survival and protection from future atrocities committed by those consumed with hatred for those they cannot recognize as brothers –- the principles of understanding and tolerance.

In a world devoid of any glimmer of beauty, a child of the Holocaust yearned to see some hint of beauty in his surroundings, most often the people around him: "Hey, try to open up your heart/To beauty; go to the woods someday/And weave a wreath of memory there/Then if the tears obscure your way/You’ll know how wonderful it is/To be alive" (Volavkova 81). This poem, written anonymously, was revived from the clutter of personal belongings at Theresienstadt, and serves as a pristine example of a message regarding tolerance toward others in our world today. This child’s simple prayer to the world seems far from offering a solution to the massive walls and bottomless chasms constructed to divide mankind from itself, but these six lines offer, with childlike simplicity, the very answer to the universal Hatred Question: tolerance. To truly be accepting of itself, humanity needs to untie the restrictive bindings of its heartstrings and open itself up to the emotions evoked in interacting with its fellow members. This child realized what the blessings of interactions with people of differing groups could bring to each unique culture. The child comprehended that we are truly a global family filled with the same spirit of our Creator who made us all in His divine and loving image. The woods represent the human race: just as the forest is filled with many types of foliage, so too is mankind a glorious bouquet of souls with distinct thoughts, hopes, dreams, beliefs, and ideals unique to each person. When we recognize this fact, and allow people to disclose their true selves outside of stereotypical views, we can then receive the full blessings of their true miraculous beings. The "wreath of memory" suggests what lessons we learn from the priceless memories of interaction. Entertwined like the boughs in a wreath are the lessons we learn about tolerance and the love for people outside the realms of each race, religion, or culture that is acquired through tolerance. Tears, like waterfalls, are powerful cascades of water that represent the forces of emotions flowing within our hearts and minds and overflowing to encompass the souls of our international brothers and sisters. To let tears flow in awe of the beauty of others is to truly comprehend our connection to one another as members of God’s creatures formed in His own image.

Each time a seed is planted there is hope for the blossom of spring. The children of the Holocaust were the planted seed, and it is up to each generation to serve as a "witness to the witness" and sow their words into the warm, moist, nutrient–rich soil of our hearts and minds and tend to them accordingly so that they might produce a crop a hundred fold to be planted in the next generation. These precious children’s voices were silenced in the unspeakable terrors of the Shoah more than fifty years ago, but will prevail through us for eternity. A tragedy as horrific and ghastly as the Holocaust can be prevented, and must be, as the hope of one million voices are depending on each one of us to spread the message of tolerance (Berenbaum 192). A little girl calls out from among the choking ashes of her family in Elie Wiesel’s poem Ani Maamin, " I believe,/Says the little girl,/Weakly,/ I believe in you" (Schiff 200).

Works Cited

Berenbaum, Michael. The World Must Know. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1993.

Volavkova, Hana, ed. I Never SawAnother Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942–1944. New York: Schoken Books, Inc. 1993.

Wiesel, Elie. "Ani Maamin, A Song of Lost and Found Again," Holocaust Poetry. Compiled by Hilda Schiff. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 1995.

 

 

 


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