A Sacred Testament
By Mary Teichert
Cokeville, WY


 

She had a story to tell, a memory to share, a plea to utter. Her words penetrated my heart. I was being taught Life’s greatest lessons by Nesse Godin, a survivor of the greatest calamity mankind had ever inflicted upon itself; The Holocaust. Before she had reached the age of 18, she had suffered through a death march, the Shauliai Lithuania Ghetto, and the Stutthof Concentration Camp. My heart could barely comprehend her anguished words. The heartache of my own life suddenly became utterly insignificant. She had been a girl just like me; yet because of hatred and prejudice, she was forced to endure unspeakable horrors. Now, this extraordinary woman was using her experiences to teach, to warn, and to inspire.

Although, I had read the text book versions and listened to brief summaries of World War II before, I was unprepared for what I heard. The textbooks had simply and profoundly listed the millions of deaths, a number on a page. There was no section for holocaust in the Encyclopedia. As I sat in the small room with the other 97 Girls Nation Senators, I felt the horror of what had really happened. These weren’t just facts but the accounts of shattered lives and dreams.

“Live!” she exclaimed. “Don’t forget us. You must make sure that everyone knows.” The survivor plead. “You are the future of the nation.” Nesse Godin cried out. Me? I wondered, an average 17-year-old American girl who likes roses and autumn? I like to eat pizza and watch movies on Saturday nights. I have never had to suffer for the traditions of my fathers. “You are the cream of the crop. Do you know how fortunate you are?” She countered. “You live in the greatest nation on Earth. You can do whatever you want.” Suddenly the weight of responsibility settled on my shoulders. I must make sure the things I learned tonight would not be forgotten. She was right; I have been given so many blessings. Her words made me wonder where the Esther of these modern Jews had been. Was it possible that one girl’s influence could prevent catastrophes? Someway, somehow, I had to repay all those who had sacrificed so much; to extend their message of mercy to humanity. This is why I am compelled to write, this is why I must speak out. Because I am the future, if I don’t, who will?
Thinking of the tragic years it represented, I tenderly held the smooth polished rock in the center of my palm. I ran my fingers over the eight letters engraved in its amber surface. R-E-M-E-M-B-E-R. The reason for my history classes in school was becoming apparent; to provide us with the knowledge to ensure a similar tragedy from striking again. R-E-M-E-M-B-E-R. A word so vital to mankind.

Her words echoed in my mind and beseeched my heart. “But most important, teach the world what hatred can do to humanity. Make sure this country is a place for all of us. We are all God’s children…Do we speak up for humanity? It doesn’t have to be a Holocaust. Everyday, a decision you make, may make the difference in your life, in the world.” (Godin) I knew I could not only be a silent witness. Hatred is not only found in foreign lands, it haunts our school hallways. Prejudice plays on our playgrounds and stereotypes are sold in our stores.

Question ran in my mind. Was I kind to those around me? Did I treat them with respect? Did I stand for something good? Did I speak up for humanity? I realized that even though I am young, there are many things I can do to make a difference. My answer is a step by step solution. I will speak up for humanity in my home, in school and at work. I will treat others with respect and kindness. It is my hope that no one with whom I come in contact feels torn or rejected.

World War II was more than a fight for territory; it was a battle for human rights. The resistance group from the Bialystok Ghetto understood this. They had a Call to Arms, their motto, which read: “Even if we are too weak to defend our lives, we are strong enough to defend Jewish honor and human dignity, and thus prove to the world that we are captive, but not defeated.” (Berenbaum 150) Clarence Darrow stated, “You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting another man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free.” (Picone 203) How can I live my whole life surrounded by America’s comforts and privileges when teenagers across the globe cannot even find peace for one night?
Someday I would like to become a mother, and these are important lessons I must teach them. My children and I can only be free if those around us are also free from abuse and social persecution. America can only remain free if she does all she can to spread freedom. When the leaders of nations met at the Evian Convention, July 1938, to address the immigration issue, Myron C. Taylor said, “I need not emphasize that discrimination and pressure against minority groups and the disregard of elementary human rights are contrary to the principles of what we have come to regard as the accepted standards of civilization.” (Berenbaum 36)

No one from my generation will ever be able to comprehend the horrific magnitude of those dark years. I cannot fathom such death and terror. Moreover, the effects of the Holocaust are far reaching. Those years still affect nations because they represent a time when the sanctity of life was defiled. Humanity cannot be at peace when a society is under attack. Just because I live in America, does not mean ruthlessness and ugliness will never reach me.

I found a letter Dr. Elchanan Elkes wrote to his children from the “vale of tears of the Kovno Ghetto.” Even in the midst of his darkest moments, he encouraged them to live lives full of beauty. “In these hardest moments of my life…before I leave this world, I wish to tell you once again that great and mighty is the power of faith and belief. Faith can move mountains. Do not let your heart lose courage, my son. Do not live for the moment; do not stray from the path and pick flowers at the wayside. They soon wilt. Lead a life full of beauty, a pure life, full of content and meaning. Remember and never forget it all your days; and pass this memory as a sacred testament to future generations.” (Berenbaum 99)
“But most important, teach the world what hatred does to humanity. Make sure that this country is a place for all of us. We are all God’s children. Live! Don’t forget us!” (Godin) Her words echo in my mind and beseech my heart. I put the amber colored rock back on the bedside table and with it promise to never forget hatred’s wretched effects on humanity.
 

 

WORKS CITED:


Berenbaum, Michael Witness to the Holocaust: An Illustrated Documentary History of the Holocaust in the Words of Its Victims, Perpetrators and Bystanders New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.

Godin, Nesse. Guest Speaker at the American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation. National 4-H Convention Center, Baltimore, MD. 24 July 2007.

Picone, Linda The Daily Book of Positive Quotations “Freedom” Minneapolis: Fairview Press, 2008.

 

 


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