Wednesday 16 January 2013

A Lucky Child

I've been reading Thomas Buergenthal's memoir A Lucky Child about his experiences during the Nazi regime and surviving the ghettos and concentration camps.

He spends a great deal of time showing the wide diversity of human behaviour during those years.  Some were broken and reformed as monsters, others died with their humanity intact.  Some who had no reason to attack did so and others who were given every reason refrained.  It's a heartbreaking window into the life of a young boy faced with impossible challenges.  He has to decide whether or not to go to the infirmary to have his blackened, frostbitten toes amputated, knowing that if he does, he risks being herded into the gaschamber during a cleansing.

As a mom, I was almost too grief-stricken reading it to cry.  I imagined what it must have been like for his mother, being terrified and helpless for her family's survival.

Of course, I also found myself wondering what would happen if my family was placed in those kinds of survival situations.  It's likely neither of my children would have survived the euphemistic "selection" process where only those able to work were allowed to live.  And I don't know if I could have taught them how to hide and take care of themselves. 

It's a frightening thought experiment to go through and emphasizes how dependent both my boys are on support at this time. 

Buergenthal opens his book by apologizing for unleashing another Holocaust memoir on the world.  He hadn't planned to publish but family and friends encouraged him.

The Holocaust isn't unique but it still stands as one of the better documented tragedies, giving us the best chance to learn from the mistakes of history.  Stories like this remind us of the reality behind the mind-numbing horror of statistics.  So these memoirs and stories are necessary.

We had a copy of Spielberg's Schindler's List but it appears to have vanished at some point from our collection.  It's not surprising.  I don't think I ever watched the video, although I had seen the movie in theatres.  There's no hiding from the truth in Spielberg's movie.  The scale and humanity are both brought home in uncompromising images.  I felt it was an important movie to own but I must admit it was never something where I thought to myself: I have a couple hours to kill, I'll watch Schindler's List.

I will get myself another copy to hold tight for the future because it is something I want to show Nathan and Alex when they get older.  I'll have to time it right because I doubt I'll get more than one shot at it.  They have to be old enough to understand what they're seeing without being so frightened by it that they shut down.  But still young enough to listen when their mother tells them to sit down and watch.

I shielded both my boys from the Newtown shootings.  Neither of them had the emotional capacity to understand what had happened and I felt it would only be confusing and upsetting to them to try and explain it.  (I found out I was right via my afternoon guilty pleasure, Dr. Phil, where he suggested that children under 6 should not be exposed to the images.)  Alex might have passed the chronological cut off, but he isn't there emotionally.

However, I don't think I should shield them from knowledge of the Holocaust.  It wouldn't be appropriate to bring it up now but at some point, they will have the emotional maturity to grasp it.  I just hope that I can do a good job of explaining that this is what some people did and use it as an example of why we have to stand up for human rights, even if we don't always agree with what other people are doing.

But for now, I'll settle for explaining why it's not okay to push your brother even if he did stand in front of the TV and block your view.

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