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Moving On but Never Forgetting

Out of My Head

Posted: February 25, 2008 1:43 p.m.
Updated: April 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Several years back in The Signal's entertainment tabloid, a blurb ran about "The Diary of Anne Frank," which at the time was being produced at one of our community theaters.

Rather than leave the advertisement a heads-up lead for live local drama, the writer added a "humorous" postscript in the form of tip to Nazi Storm Troopers.

A "helpful" FYI, it read: "Psst! She's hiding upstairs in the closet!"

Seeing that, I winced. I also wondered, would readers observe that tidbit as brilliant satire or insensitive banter?

To me, it sure felt like the latter.

You just don't joke about Anne Frank.

For those who never knew, or have perhaps forgotten, Anne Frank was a Jew born in 1929 Germany. Along with her family, she went into hiding in the Netherlands during the Holocaust. Eventually they were captured by the Nazis and hauled off to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There, Anne (and her sister) became extremely weak, malnourished, and succumbed to typhus in 1945, just weeks before liberation.
Anne's diary, which was revealed after her death, chronicled two years spent in hiding, as well as the hideous nature of Fascism.

This was about a young, promising life cut short by a madman bent on "purifying" the human race through mass exterminations.

Not funny at all.

* * *

As a Jew, moreover, a member of that same human race, I've long asked myself if the postscript quip was born out of Holocaust indifference or fatigue.

Some folks who seem equipped with an ample amount of tolerance have apparently grown tired of hearing about the Holocaust.

I picked up on a clear example of that disinterest many years ago at a party.

During a conversation someone said, "Enough with the Holocaust already! I'm tired of hearing about it. It's time to give it a rest. Jews need to move on."

Hearing this, I was shocked but not surprised. It wasn't the first occasion I'd heard a passive tone expressed toward the Holocaust.

Nor was it the first time someone inferred that the Holocaust was a Jews-only genocide.

The truth is, although persecuted and murdered in far less numbers than the Jews, gays, gypsies, the disabled, political and religious dissidents (and other faiths), Romanis, ethnic Poles and many others were also among Nazi targets.

Now, as we have just passed the 75-year anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to fanatical power, it's more important than ever to keep the Holocaust cemented in our collective consciousness.

Being stripped of everything owned and held dear, carried off at gunpoint from homes, businesses, and places of worship, then hauled off via cramped, fetid cattle cars to concentration camps is something to be committed to memory.

Babies and toddlers being gunned down before their parents' horrified eyes should never become old news.

Starvation, torture, rape, slave labor, mindlessly barbaric lab experiments, shootings, gas chambers; these atrocities must never lose their impact - no matter how many years go by.

Maybe some people think such sinister human history should get tossed in the big beige file labeled "It's Over."

But I don't; do you?

* * *

Spanish philosopher and essayist George Santayana said it well: "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Keeping that cautionary statement in mind, I'm grateful that our state Assembly has chosen to preserve Holocaust awareness through California Holocaust Memorial Week. Taking place April 28 through May 2, this program includes a variety of Holocaust-related educational activities. In preparation, numerous California communities have been busy securing Holocaust survivor stories, with high school students being the recorders of history.

On Tuesday night at Saugus High School I witnessed two Holocaust survivors, Sheldon and Eva Mars of Friendly Valley, brilliantly and courageously participate in the project.

Eight students from our local high schools came armed with questions for the Mars about their Holocaust memories, what life was like before the Nazis took over, how they survived those horrid years, and how they've fared since.

Joining us were Sheldon and Eva's children and grandchildren.

Spellbound, we all listened intently to the gray-haired couple.

A few times, one of their teary-eyed daughters whispered to me, "They never discussed that with us before."

Admitting she still suffers from anxiety, Eva described the terror of being 8 years old and watching her Jewish community's destruction.

Her voice shaking, Eva spoke of the infamous pogrom, Kristallnacht, (Night of the Broken Glass), which occurred in 1939. During Kristallnacht, many thousands of Jewish homes and shops were ransacked and destroyed throughout German towns and villages.

Nazi sledgehammers shattered thousands of windows (hence the term Kristallnacht); many Jews were beaten to death; 30,000 Jewish men were taken to concentration camps, and more than 1,500 synagogues were torched.

Just as Hitler's madness was moving into full throttle, Eva's parents secured passports for their German family to flee. Their destination: Shanghai. There they lived in Jewish ghettos controlled by the Japanese. Despite poor living conditions, including eating worm-infested food that made her terribly ill, Eva and her family survived.

Sheldon did not fare as well.

A native Czechoslovakian Jew, he told of how the Germans killed his family: parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.

Yet he made it.

Going into the camps with a strong mind (like many European Jews, his parents were avidly pro-education and exercise), he survived three concentration camps, including Auschwitz. All the time, he performed forced labor such as digging ditches and making ammunition.

Sheldon recalled how, upon being liberated, he was taken in by a kind German woman who fed him and helped him recover from his emaciated state.

This was yet another priceless message to the students: Not all Germans were, or are, anything like Adolf Hitler.

Both Sheldon and Eva told the crowd that their reason for coming that evening was to help ensure no one will ever go through what they experienced.

Studying the students' faces as Sheldon and Eva described their Holocaust memories, I viewed a spectrum of reactions. Some sat with blank stares, yet within their eyes registered shock. One female from Valencia High openly cried and temporarily left the room.

Now their reporter notes will be gathered, created into a formal journal and then added to other 2008 Holocaust remembrance projects in our state's capital. There they will be presented at a special Holocaust Memorial Week ceremony in April.

Many thanks to Assemblyman Cameron Smyth's office, along with the help of his field representative, Ed Masterson, and Saugus High Principal Bill Bolde, for enabling this project within our community. Likewise, thank you, students, for enlisting in this vital historical exercise.

My deepest gratitude goes to Sheldon and Eva Mars for sharing their painful life lessons with the younger generation.

Hopefully, through this valuable program and other endeavors geared toward Holocaust awareness, there will less forgetting, less jokes, less apathy and - most crucial - less chance of future Holocausts to arise from Hell.

Diana Sevanian is a freelance writer and Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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