For Us

July 25, 2011
In World War 2, concealed by the smoke and rubble of war, millions of Jews—men and women and children—were placed in boxcars and sent to concentration camps, which for most were their graves. During the Holocaust families were torn and lives were destroyed. Millions perished in the crematoriums. their ashes fell to the ground like snow, while millions more lie dead across Europe: either buried in memorials or lost completely in the fields of war. Few escaped and those who did warned a world that wasn’t ready to face the depravity that lay before them. But despite the warnings, few listened; the atrocity seemed incomprehensible. In the end, millions died, and few survived.
Malka Baran survived, and I was privileged to hear her testimony. She was born in Warsaw and, like many children, made friends and enjoyed her childhood. Then the Nazis came. Everything changed. There was a “selection” in which they gathered Jews in the middle of the ghetto, and sent thousands to Treblinka, including her mother.
Before Malka Baran left the ghetto a group of Jews rebelled, shooting SS-soldiers, but they were instantly overpowered. As a lesson the soldiers took babies from the crowd and threw them against the wall, and shot them. She quavered when she said this.
I didn’t react when she recollected these facts and this memory; I was too horrified. The evil she described was overwhelming and even after months of pondering over it, I still cannot describe it. And I know try as I may, I’ll never find the words. Indeed, defining this evil in words is to fail miserably and, I fear, belittle it. But, like Malka Baran, we must nevertheless struggle and sweat and fight for words. The only answer to this magnitude of evil is to shout it from the rooftops— wickedness thrives in darkness, but when light is shed upon it, it dies.
The unnerving fact about the evil she recollected is that it was committed not by animals, but by humans. Humans who loved their families and laughed with friends and broke bread with those amongst them. Humans who cried and felt and bled when they hurt. Humans, like us.
But, surprisingly, from Malka Baran's memory and the evils she recounted, we also see the glory of mankind—no matter how evil Hitler’s intentions were, many of the Jewish people still survived. Sometimes, human glory is shrouded in mystery that it’s imperceptible. That’s why we don’t see their glory when we look at the survivors who temporarily gave up their humanity and forced themselves not to feel because for them to feel was to die. But we must see this glory; we need to understand that being willing to sacrifice your humanity to survive is nothing short of pure glory.
Those who survived, like Malka Baran, relive their memories, even if the memories are excruciating, to ensure that such horrors never happen again. To put it in another way, they suffered greatly, but they relive their sufferings, for us, that we may not forbear what they forborne, that we may not endure the vileness they endured. They do it, for us.

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