Over the years our language has changed. We’ve added multitudes of new words, and we’ve dropped some old ones. Each year we seem to accumulate a list of newly minted words or phrases as legitimate. Whether or not they stay in the vocabulary, who’s to say? But the one I’ve been thinking about today is binge watching.
Binge watching is to find a program or a series that I like and then find a way, like Netflix or Amazon, to watch as many episodes as possible in order. I also tend to watch documentaries in groups, sometimes forensics, crime, medical, and sometimes history. It seems that lately, I’ve been on a kick where I’ve been watching documentaries on the Holocaust and World War II. I don’t know why, but finding a documentary I haven’t seen on the Holocaust always triggers my interest, as difficult as many of the scenes in them are to watch.
I found one the other day on reconstruction work going on in Auschwitz-Birkenau. It told the story of the camps and which persons were selected for which camp based on specific criteria. Birkenau was the death camp. People chosen to go there were sent to die immediately. Auschwitz was a work camp where people were stripped of more than just their clothes, their possessions, and often their families, but also of dignity, common decency, and their humanity.
As I said, a lot of the pictures and films are hard to watch, seeing people who are skeleton-thin walking in cold weather wearing no more than a pair of striped pajamas, if that much. Naked people were lying out on the cold ground, either dead or the next thing to it. I wondered why they are rebuilding a place that has so many horrible memories, but the documentaries, especially the one on Auschwitz that I saw the other night, explained to me precisely what the objective was.
During the filming, they brought some survivors of Auschwitz to visit the camp as it is being rebuilt slowly but carefully. Looking at pictures of the area as it was in 1945 and its campus now, it is like looking at a whole different world. In 1945 there were no concrete walkways, trees, or even a blade of grass. For the survivors, confronting memories that have haunted them for years, gave them a chance to show their children and grandchildren part of their history in a way that would help them to understand where their family members had been and what they had experienced.
One thing that struck me was interviews with people involved in rebuilding and restoring Auschwitz. There were older craftsmen there but there were also a number of younger people, a surprising amount of younger people, each with a specialty that would enable them to help rebuild or restore buildings and items from those who had been rounded up and sent to that place as a final solution to what the Nazis called “the Jewish problem.” It was interesting to see a simple suitcase that came with someone, probably from Poland, 70 years ago in the hope of being sent away from a crowded ghetto to a place where they could live their lives. Of course, we know that didn’t happen. The suitcase was a bit worse for wear, as a surviving relic of seven decades would undoubtedly be. It was restored slowly and carefully but without changing its dents, dings, and scratches.
One young woman especially impressed me. She was involved with restoring some of the barracks in which the prisoners lived in the most abysmal of situations. The young woman of probably mid-20s or little older was asked what she gained from helping to restore this symbol of ultimate oppression and murder. Her response was rather simple but powerful. Her purpose, as she explained it, was to help others to know what happened in Auschwitz through accurate reconstruction and meaningful displays so that it would be a visual expression of what should never be repeated. Her mission was to help restore a part of history, and to do it carefully, honestly, and with the greatest humility, in memory of all those who had been imprisoned there.
The people restoring Auschwitz might not all have felt as that young woman did about the humility, but I think it pointed out that even bringing something back into existence or repairing something that is painful and distressing is something that can be done with care. The careful work of reminding the world that this Holocaust happened, and it could happen again if we are not cautious, is vital. It’s a reminder of how much history can repeat itself, like the conflicts between the Croats and the Serbians, the Hutus and the Tutsi, or any other part of the world where one group or one race or one culture seeks to wipe out any other that they feel might threaten or gain power over them. I probably should add the Israelis and the Palestinians to this, as much as it pains my heart to do so. Surely the Israelis have known what it’s like to be persecuted, hunted down, rounded up into ghettos, and killed because of their faith and their culture.
I think I will be thinking about that young worker and her explanation of what she was doing and why. Where are places in my life that I can help to restore something that needs to be remembered and not just swept under the rug? Where can I participate in Tikkun Olam, the restoration of the earth? Where can I practice the acceptance of others who are different and encourage others to do the same?
There’s a lot to be done out there, and I hope that I’m not the only one who would like to see it done, not because it makes us look good, but because the humility that we expend in this reconstruction is ultimately for the glory of God and not for our own benefit. It’s a big job, but it needs doing.
Image Auschwitz Shoes, Author Bibi595, taken 30 January 2012. Found on Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is adminitrative officer to three cats who rule the house.