A Sacred Testament
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?
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?
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)
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