Red Tulips
By Lauren Smith
Tulsa, OK


 

“Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained
with the greatest of violence.”

Francis Jeffrey

The sky was dark and clear as Harriet Sherber crossed the open field. The world was silent, but her mind was screaming. In her small hands she bore her father’s saber. She reached the center of the field, her heart, a frightened bird desperate to break free of her rib cage. She stopped and glanced about, and then she let the saber fall from her fingertips. The blade struck the ground with a sharp metallic ring. Harriet stifled a scream as she fled from the field. I listened with baited breath as Harriet paused, the silence on the other end of the phone line was deafening. She had just explained to me how her father had entrusted her with the task of getting rid of his saber before the Nazis found it. No weapons were allowed to be in a Jewish person’s possession. I asked her what the penalty would be if she had been caught. Her voice finally came back across the phone. Slicing through the years of pain and with a strange coldness she said, “That was the end. You wound up in a concentration camp” (Sherber).

This had been my first encounter with a Holocaust survivor. Harriet Sherber, a petite Austrian woman in her early eighties, had gladly agreed to an interview with me. I was nervous at first. Would she break down and cry? Would I be able to stand hearing the agony in her voice as she spoke of the terrors she had endured? I listened for an hour and a half as she poured out her life story. A collection of memories, carved into the stone of her mind, which she had hoped the years would wear away, but now I had asked her to re-carve them solely for me. She displayed these hidden stones of pain to me and I will never forget her courage. She began her tale from the annexation of Austria in 1938 to one month after Kristallnact when she and her family had obtained visas to the United States. She had been very young when the Holocaust had taken place and the trauma of it had caused her to forget some of the more horrific events, until just recently. On the “Night of Broken Glass” her family had been warned by a soldier to stay inside with the lights off. They heard commotion outside, and then banging on the door.

Their housekeeper answered the door; they recognized the harsh tones of an SS officer as he entered the house. She remembers it clearly, “we waited for his footsteps on the stairs.” But they never came; Harriet later found out the sacrifice the housekeeper had made to save her Jewish employers. “She bedded him, to save us. Nothing can ever compare to that sacrifice” (Sherber).

I wondered what Harriet felt as she looked back upon the Nazis and their regime of terror. She replied solemnly, “Although I was extremely lucky, I still suffered from the horrors. We lost all of our civil rights. You were considered subhuman. When people are encouraged to discriminate and to commit unspeakable crimes against minorities, it brings out the worst in them. It’s like with wild animals, you just don’t look them in the eyes, or they’ll attack you” (Sherber). She left me with thoughts of how she fought the Nazis. Harriet told me that “What I am doing today and everyday is my best revenge” (Sherber). She clearly sees that her survival and the continuation of a good life is revenge in purest form. We must never forget the truth of the Holocaust or we are doomed to repeat its horror. We must value every life and the rights owed to those lives.

I recently watched the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” and I remember sitting in the theater a long time after the credits had ended (George). My mind had long been tormented by the idea of the Holocaust and mass genocide, but this movie brought back a fresh wave of nausea and confusion. How could the world have turned its back on the Rwandan atrocities? Simply ignored the massacre of thousands, especially after what happened to the Jews? Questions filled my mind like a flooding river. Has man ever gained anything from the enmity of others? Our deep seeded bitterness at subtle differences, are they born of jealousy or ignorance? Surely, mankind does not think that murder, violence, and hatred can truly be beneficial. What could drive a child to shove another down on a playground, or a salesclerk to refuse to sell a soda to an African American? Does no one feel the blissful jubilation in the heart by helping someone, by understanding their views, or by treating them with kindness?

After I got off the phone with Harriet, my eyes strayed to the window where I saw my mother planting some different colored tulips that she was mixing freely. I opened the window and asked her why she was putting the reds next to the blues and whites. With a knowing smile she called back, “Each color complements the other colors, the loss of one color would tarnish the true beauty the colors would make when all together.” The epiphany came then, along the gentle breeze of the springtime. God is the gardener of the world, and he chose to plant us just as my mother planted the tulips, mixed freely together, our cultural and racial differences accenting each other. If the Germans had succeeded, the garden of the world would be short one color. The world would be less beautiful without red tulips.

Knowledge is the first step to prevention and ignorance is not bliss under any circumstances. If we know the differences in other people then we can then understand why they are important. After we understand their importance, then we can find a way to use our differences to help others. The fact that others are different from us should be viewed as an adventure, a chance to safely enter the unknown and return a wiser person. Mankind needs to learn to step out of its comfort zone and experience life as God intended. Racism and prejudice only inhibit us from succeeding in a worldwide understanding and acceptance that might shape our future for the better. If we ever plan to live our lives to the best of our abilities, we must end the hatred, end the ignorance and open our hearts. Only then, can we be the people we are destined to be.

 


Works Cited

Sherber, Harriet. Personal Interview. February 17, 2005.

Smith, Julie. Personal Interview. February 17, 2005.

Hotel Rwanda. Dir. Terry George. Perf. Don Cheadle. MGM, United
Artists, 2004.

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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