Monday, 2 March 2015

Lessons from the Past

I read an article today about a woman who survived the Holocaust over 70 years ago. The article spoke of how she was a child during the war and had a special doll that she believes saved her from sure death. Apparently the doll 'told her' to run away from a place of safety where soon after, the children there were killed. She has had this doll with her for over 70 years and has now decided to donate it to a museum/archive of sorts so her story can live on.

It is interesting, to hear a survival story such as this. I would venture to guess, during such a time, there were many stories that were similar. That she attributed her surviving the war to an inanimate object may not be any different from people attributing their survival of any life/death experience to a 'vision of a dead relative'. How much of a role sheer luck played in any of these stories is unknown as is the number of people with similar stories who did not survive. Perhaps needing to 'believe' is the theme that ties these stories together.  I think, in the face of tragedy, we all look for answers - why something happened or why it didn't can often not be explained by logic and so, we reach for something more - for a sign of divine intervention and failing that, for a 'hero' who saved us.

I have seen several Holocaust memorials in different places; while they are all very emotional to visit, the one that always send shivers up my spine is the Children's Memorial at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem. Simple in its design, it is so very poignant in its message. It is a simple structure you walk through, a separate building to the main museum, with mirrors, candles and names of the dead announced in a never-ending loop over the PA system. It truly gives meaning to the reality of generations lost and lives cut short by such a terrible time in the world's history. One can only hope, that civilization learns lessons from the mistakes of the past and finds ways to peacefully ensure that it never happens again.

Over 70 years have passed. One day, in the not too distant future, the survivors will be gone and the history books and museums will be all that is left to teach us and remind us of all that was lost. The interviewer asked the woman with the doll, why she didn't give it to her children and grandchildren. Her answer had more to do with the best place to keep her story alive than anything else. While the legacy of the doll may have some immediate meaning to her family, in the end it will become family lore and be forgotten, watered down or embellished. But clearly, she sees the bigger picture; her story is not about one person's legacy to their family. It's about bravely telling they world about a terrible time when humanity was almost lost. It's about the one, and the many, stories of survival. It's about teaching the future generations. It's about 'Never Again'.

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