Teach Your Children Well
Last summer, I stood in the depths of the darkest hellhole on earth. I stood at Birkenau, the Auschwitz death camp. More than 60 years later, I stood in a place that once only knew torture and death. Watch the movie Schindler’s List and notice the camp that the victims enter. I stood in that exact desolate location filled with nothing but barbed wire and railroad tracks. I stood there in July and I wore a sweatshirt. I was frozen, in July. Imagine December and January.
One of the most important facets of humankind is that we feel emotions. The Nazis attempted to dehumanize the Jewish people. They took away everything; they tried to make Jews less than human by removing their dignity. But on the contrary, the Jewish people had become more human than ever. The Jewish people felt pain, cruelty, and hatred. But what did the Nazi’s feel? Nothing. They became inhumane, apathetic, and emotionless; humans feel love and compassion.
Persecution, an evil, nasty beast of society, which spews out ignorance, hatred, and intolerance, continues to plague the world with oppression and human suffering. Persecution has infected society for centuries and even in the modern world it has not faltered. The question we fail to ask is: why does this beast continue to survive in spite of our awareness of the consequences? Part of the answer lies with the inception of hatred and fear. People develop a fear towards those who are different and grow to be intolerant and hateful. People forget we are all humans despite our differences of race, ethnicity, and religious background.
The fire of hated continues to be fueled, but we as a society must come together to stamp it out. We can educate the children and those who are ignorant; tools such as books, poems, and films must be utilized and written. For example, To Kill A Mockingbird written by Harper Lee, although written about racism during the 1950s, can be drawn upon today to give students an awareness of the nature of prejudice and persecution. There is one part in the book that I found particularly meaningful and insightful. The protagonist, a young girl, Scout, witnesses her teacher (who only days before spoke of the awful pain and torture that Hitler was inflicting upon the Jewish people) saying “its time somebody taught’em [African Americans] a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they can do is marry us” (p.247). This sequence of events leads Scout to a stage of contemplation and as a result she asks her older brother, Jem, a mind-boggling question. “Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad ‘an then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home” (p.247). This is an example of child innocence exposing the contradictions of society. Scout realizes what the adults cannot; there isn’t any difference between hating a Jewish person and hating a black person. Hate and prejudice has no boundaries.
Society needs to depend upon the older generation to teach morals and values to the younger generation. However, insightful children such as Scout can teach other children and even adults about the injustices of the past and present. My theater teacher, Anna Smulowitz, realized the significance of child educators. Accordingly, she wrote, directed and produced a play performed only by children entitled Terezin: Children of the Holocaust, which is about the plight and interactions of six children during a two-day period in a Nazi concentration camp. At the end of the play the children were taken by railway to Auschwitz, where the majority of them perished. Anna used the story of her parents, who were Holocaust survivors as a guide for writing the play. I was given an extraordinary opportunity at the age of nine through thirteen to perform in this play at various high schools throughout Massachusetts. The primary purpose of the performance was to teach students not only about the Holocaust, but why the Holocaust happened and to strive to remove bullying and prejudice within our school systems. As an actor in Terezin, I had to transform myself into a child who was suffering in a concentration camp. I researched, watched movies and read books about the holocaust to gain a greater understanding of the torment. I rehearsed and performed in this play for five years; it became the main focus in my life. During this period of time, I searched for emotions buried deep within me; emotions that no one would ever want to feel. Performing in this play at such a young age had a profound impact on my life and influenced my strong feelings about the ugliness of repression and persecution.
Teaching children that persecution is wrong is the first step in minimizing or eliminating the ignorance that is the foundation of hate. This hope was revealed in part of a poem by Sonia Weitz (2003), a Holocaust survivor, that reads: “And so, we bestow the hope, the trust, the future, the past upon you…and indeed upon your seed…” The idea sounds so simple, yet so very hard to achieve. It is our responsibility as human beings to try to help prevent persecution by teaching others that his or her ill behavior or offbeat remark toward another is wrong. Both adults and children can teach moral lessons. As a Yiddish proverb teaches us, “Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough, but not baked in the same oven.” We are all the same, it is our actions towards others that define and differentiate who we are as human beings.
Yes, the Jews bled; but they live on, and remember. We remember the atrocities the Nazi’s committed. We remember the hatred, and we remember the ignorance. But, we also must remember that hate is not extinct; it exists today, in all shapes and forms. Do not hate the ignorant and hateful; instead, teach them. Teach them the difference between right and wrong, and make sure it never happens again. In Auschwitz, inscribed on a plaque are the words of George Santayana: “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”
Lee, H. (1960). To Kill A
Mockingbird. Philadelphia, PA: J. B.Lippincott.
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