Thursday, September 22, 2005

I need to go to down to the kitchen and steam some rice so that I can have supper tonight, but first, I have to jot down some things...

I just got out of my WWII Holocaust class, and I am overwhelmed. It's a senior-level class, with an emphasis on discussion, rather than lecture. We don't focus on what the Holocaust was, the facts and figures, but instead, we focus on the memories OF the Holocaust -- how it is remembered, why we should remember the Holocaust, what we should do with the memories (or SHOULD we do anything?). There are so many times in class when I cannot write fast enough, when I cannot get all my thoughts on paper as I wait to take my turn to speak. It is so intriguing to me, and now that I am comfortable in the class, I speak my mind much more often, with no adrenaline spike or galloping heartbeat.

Today, as we did on Tuesday, we focused on various memorials to the Holocaust. We have to understand that there IS no Perfect Memorial to the Holocaust -- that it is impossible. It can't be a Jewish memorial, for Jews were not the only victims; there were Jews, yes, but there were Roma, homosexuals, 7th Day Adventists, etc., as well. It can't be a "Martyr's Memorial," for they were not martyrs, in the true sense of the word. Yes, they died for a cause, but for the Nazi's cause, not their own. Should it be abstract? Should the emphasis be on the Jews? Even the word, "Holocaust," is referring to the Jewish portion of the victims; why is the entire episode labelled with a Jewish term?

Today one of the memorials we focused on (and the one that sparked my interest the most) was the preserved concentration camp at --I believe -- Auschwitz-Birkenau. It isn't a "memorial" the way many are, as it isn't a sculpture or work of art, a slab of marble or carefully crafted bronze. Yet it is carefully created and formed to evoke certain feelings from the general public. Many people like the fact that the barracks, the grounds, have been "preserved," yet what they are getting is NOT the true Auschwitz they think they're getting; it's been carefully reconstructed. The buildings are whole, clean, and the ground outside has grass and flowers. There is no disease, no gunshots, no death. There are no guards, there are no spotlights, there are no dogs. There is no fear. It is merely a group of empty buildings, restored to evoke feelings from us. But as I told the professor, these feelings -- they are our imagination. It is not a true memory. Instead, the buildings instill in us a false sense of authenticity, making us believe that we know what it must have been like to be there.

So should the buildings be continually restored, so more generations can "know," enabled with this fake reality, to imagine the way things might have been? One member in my group stated that he likes the way they're "preserved;" that this way, people will visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, and remember the way it was.

"But," I said, "Should we? Should we remember? They are not our memories to have." We will never have the exact feeling or thoughts that the prisoners did; instead, the reconstructed surroundings give us a false sense of authenticity; we are using the surroundings to try to imagine what it could have been like. We are stealing and warping the survivors' memories, twisting them with our own biases and reactions.

Should the buildings be "preserved"? Yes, say some, for we will Learn from the Experience; keeping these buildings there will ensure that this sort of atrocity will never happen again. I have to disagree. Obviously, the world has not learned, has not bettered itself, by having the reconstructed concentration camps -- for genocides are occurring at this very minute. We will Never Forget! is the cry of people remembering the Holocaust -- yet, truthfully, they are fooling themselves; if they truly would Never Forget, they would be doing something about the genocide in Darfur, they would've done something about Pol Pot's slaughtering of people. Yet obviously, they don't want to; if they refuse to acknowledge that the genocides are occurring, they don't have to do anything about it. That is the level to which our society has stooped, and it sickens me.

Another picture showed a crematorium; the Germans had blown it up when the Allies were coming in, to try to destroy the evidence. There it is, a mound of blackened timbers and metal, with grass beginning to crawl up the sides. And I have to say that I much prefer this memorial than the reconstructed barracks of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This one, at least, is real; it is truthful; it is not adulterated, it is not altered. It is not part of an eerie, somber "Disneyland" that tries to get us to see what Auschwitz-Birkenau felt like. It's there; we know what happened, but gradually, it's being healed -- just like the people.

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