Shattered: Scenes of Provinciality
By Ashley Eberhart
Downers Grove, IL


 

First they came for the Jews
and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a Jew.

I am not Jewish. I am not a minority of any kind, for that matter. I am a white, Anglo-Saxon American teenager living comfortably in Midwestern suburbia. I have two happily married parents with typical, albeit predictable, 8 to 5 jobs. We live with my little brother and our dog in a friendly suburban neighborhood where Jello molds fill the kitchens of new neighbors, and moms keep an eye out for the local kids playing baseball in the cul-de-sac. The bills get paid on time, the big yellow school bus screeches to a stop at the corner at 7:16 every morning. We sit down to family dinner in the evenings, and go to church at 9:15 every Sunday. My life is simple, conventional, even borderline provincial at times. I have never faced prejudice, hatred, persecution. I have never looked death in the eye. I am the reason the Holocaust must be remembered.

Then they came for the Communists
and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a Communist.


“You are the last generation to hear the survivors speak. You must be our voice to your children, your grandchildren.” Sitting captivated in my school auditorium, the words of Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal hit me like a brick. “You are our only link to the future.” I am worried about my generation. We have an enormous burden to bear, and I am unsure as to whether we are ready to tackle the enigma that is social responsibility. To make way for success in the future, we must look toward our past failures, though the single most overlooked mistake in dealing with the Holocaust is talking about it as if it is a historical event. Yes, the Holocaust may be over, but holocaust in and of itself has not ended. As the collective human race, we still do not practice overarching tolerance and respect of diversity. We must remember the mass obliteration of six million Jewish people and nearly five million others because the same blind hatred that led to Hitler’s “Final Solution” is still practiced today, from the furthest reaches of the Middle East to our very own United States. We are just too blind to anything save our own provinciality to realize it.

Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables
and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't mentally ill.

If you visited a university in Saudi Arabia, 70% of the desks would have female students sitting in them. However, if you then walked into any place of business in the country, you’d find only 5% of the positions filled by women. Every 15 seconds, a girl as young as five endures the painful, dangerous process of female circumcision (Robinson, 2006). In India, a woman’s worth is determined by the value of her dowry. Oppression of women is as old as Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge. It is a sometimes-silent, sometimes-furious struggle, but it is more widespread than any racial or religious discrimination, as it essentially affects 50% of the population. Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, offered this example in a recent seminar at St. Mary’s College: “I have been a judge in Iran for 35 years, but the illiterate janitor who works in my office, simply for being a man, can give testimony in court twice as valuable as mine.” She offered various instances of inequality at every level, from polygamy in Iran to the fact that the United States has never had a female president. We cannot envision a unified world until all its citizens are treated fairly, and women are a crucial part of the equation. As Mrs. Ebadi concluded, “Global peace will not be possible until women take an equal voice in its construction.”

Then they came for the Socialists
and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a Socialist.

President Richard M. Nixon once said, “In the long term, we can hope that religion will change the nature of man and reduce conflict. But history is not encouraging in this respect. The bloodiest wars in history have been religious wars.” He was absolutely right. In the eleventh century, the Crusades began raging through Europe in the name of Christianity. Centuries of anti-Semitism culminated in the Holocaust, where six million Jewish people were systematically murdered for their faith. Catholics and Protestants in Ireland fought for years over their differences, leading to a divided state after the brutal Irish Revolution in the early twentieth century. So much blood has been shed in the name of the Lord. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. If religion is having faith in a higher being that teaches peace and gentleness, then how could war in the name of God ever be justified? And yet, religious wars across the world rage on. Until they cease, “tolerance” can never be a universal truth.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I didn’t speak up
because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” What it fails to mention, however, are the feeble cries of a Rwandan baby as a Hutu extremist raises an ax above its head, the mother torn from her daughter, shoved harshly by a Nazi’s rifle butt in a winding line to the gas chamber churning stolen dreams into an overcast sky. Nowhere between those eight letters is cracked ground glossy with splattered pools of blood under the blazing Sudanese sun. A lifeless definition cannot express such horror. Words hardly can. But when I hear the word genocide, I see a desperate Jewish mother slipping poison to her children as the Nazis grow ever closer. As vivid as my own reflection in the mirror, I watch as she hugs her babies close, hearing the sharp echoes of steel boots in the ghetto’s hallway, taking the last of the poison for herself. As life slides from her, the woman’s eyes close…Genocide still happens today. The Holocaust is not yet over.
 

Then they came for the Catholics
and I didn’t speak up
because I was a Protestant.

I am not Jewish. I do not face bullets or torture or gas chambers for my beliefs. No one tells me that I cannot believe in my God. My life is not led in fear. I am not a minority, an at-risk teenager, a frightened refugee.

But I am a human being.

And I must be a voice to the silenced, lest I slip into silence as well.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak for me.



Works Cited

Blumenthal, Marion. "Four Perfect Pebbles." The Culver Academies. Eppley Auditorium,
Culver, IN. 23 Mar 2007.

Ebadi, Shirin. Women as Intellectual Leaders: Collaboration at the Crossroads. St.
Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN. 26 Apr 2007

Niemöller, Martin. “First They Came for the Jews.”

Robinson, B.A. . "Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Africa, the Middle East & Far East." 25 Nov 2006. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 29 Apr 2007 <http://www.religioustolerance.org>.
 

 


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