The Spark Among the Ashes
The elderly gentleman’s weathered hand
trembled visibly as it gently, yet painfully, fingered the numerical code
embedded deeply within the transparent panel before him. Openly weeping,
the man stood in the intense heat of the noonday, summer sun, pausing
before the magnificent, highly-overdue memorial which would serve to bring
forth within him a healing release.
It was there in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts, during that memorable summer of 1999, that I witnessed this unforgettable scene. On a long-awaited, family vacation to New England and Canada, and during a sightseeing tour which included a scheduled stop at the world-famous Quincy Market, my family and I suddenly found ourselves standing in unanticipated awe in the presence of the nearby, New England Holocaust Memorial. Ironically found along Boston’s Freedom Trail and located in Carmen Park on Congress Street next to Faneuil Hall, this impressive memorial, designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz, is comprised of six, lofty, internally-illuminated glass towers which are dedicated to the memory of the millions of men, women, and children who were needlessly murdered by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. (1) We soon found that each of the six towers is representative of one of the primary Nazi death camps: Majdanek, Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. (2) Silently and reverently filing behind other visitors in slow procession along the enclosed, granite walkway, my family and I were overcome with emotion. My eyes fell upon the haunting inscription, “Remember,” at the entrance of the first tower. Instinctively, I was moved to touch each of these panels out of an overwhelming sense of sorrow, of respect, and of obligation. Collectively containing six million, inscribed numerical sequences ranging from 0000001 to 6000000, the tower panels were etched in symbolic representation of the six million, Jewish lives that were forever tragically destroyed by the senseless acts of humans. (3) At the end of the beautifully-landscaped walkway, my family and I encountered an exquisite, ebony granite marker whose chilling inscription, containing a quote attributed to Reverend Martin Niemoller, will forever permeate my thinking:
“THEY CAME FIRST for the
Ironically, a little over two years after I experienced that life-changing visit to Boston, the United States experienced the shocking, terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. These deplorable acts proved that, despite all of our many and varied attempts to educate the masses, unspeakable hatred and prejudice still exist in today’s world. Although tremendous loss of life and destruction resulted from these tragic events, the combined devastation which occurred in New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania cannot possibly compare with the level of genocide which occurred during Hitler’s Holocaust. Thus, it is vital that the lessons learned from the world’s worst annihilation--which wiped out approximately eleven million people--be effectively passed on to each future generation in order to assure that these acts of humanity never again take place. For it was the silence, fear, and ignorance of all of the world’s people which ultimately resulted in the unimaginable death toll caused by the followers of the Third Reich. Throughout the history of mankind, one can find evidence that “Evil thrives when good men do nothing.” (5)
What can one, fourteen-year-old teenager from East Tennessee do to effectively combat and prevent prejudice, discrimination, and violence in our world today? The answer to that question can be determined quite simply. For example, during careful examination of literature dealing with the Holocaust, one can find that one young teenager, Anne Frank, assuredly changed the course of classic literary history with the penmanship of her poignant, personal diary which included the following July 15, 1944, entry: “...I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, and this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.” (6) Her simply-written journal has probably served to educate more people about the evility of prejudice than any other means. Clearly, teens have the energy, the creativity, and the responsibility necessary to serve their country through ethical education of the world’s population. They can begin today, in this very moment, right where they are, and in whatever capacity that they feel led. For, “What you need to know about the past is that no matter what has happened, it has all worked together to bring you to this very moment. And this is the moment you can choose to make everything new. Right now.” (7) Thus, like Anne, teenagers can--and must--hold on to their ideals. Whether is be through deflating a racist joke in the school lunchroom, defusing another person’s anger targeted toward a particular group of people, or simply modeling compassion for others throughout one’s daily activities, even a single teenager can make an enormous impact by helping to foster a sense of respect for others. By always displaying personal integrity and positively acknowledging the uniqueness of other people, today’s teenager can serve as a willing torchbearer, tirelessly carrying the eternal flame that Anne herself ignited over half a century ago when she penned her famous quote, “...I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” (8)
During the dedication of the New England Holocaust Memorial, a “beacon of memory and hope,” (9) on October 22, 1995, in honor and remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Holocaust, well-known author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, eloquently reminded the audience: “We must look for hope. There is a marvelous saying by a great Hasidic master: ‘If you look for the spark, you will find it in the ashes’.” (10) Perhaps, Mr. Wiesel, in the still-smoldering rubble of the previously-existing World Trade Center, and amidst the great sea of our broken hearts, the world will once again be reminded of the unending responsibility that each and every one of us has to be that spark among the ashes.
(1) The New England Holocaust Memorial
website. Friends of New England Holocaust
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