I went back and forth on whether or not I should visit Bergen-Belsen memorial with the kids. I am always so torn between trying to present them with the most beautiful of worlds, while also not sheltering them from devastating realities.
Ultimately, I decided to take them.
They all ready know quite a bit about World War 2, the Holocaust, and the atrocities that occurred. We studied the Hawaiian/American aspect of it pretty extensively this past year, while also discussing with them aspects of the Holocaust and learning about Anne Frank.
I was able to appreciate that much of it they’re still too innocent to fully grasp.
A burial site for 1000 slain humans is a number they can’t truly fathom. Let alone 5000. Or millions.
But they were able to grasp that it’s a lot.
And there were children.
My degree is in Human Rights and Western European History. I’ve studied WW2 and the Holocaust quite extensively. It was all very gruesome and tragic 10 years ago when I was earning my degree, and I was not quite ready for how much it would hurt now, as a mother, to walk through that burnt down camp of forest and flowers and monuments, knowing that those had been someone’s babies. Someone’s children. Regardless of age.
And that someone had made them an “other” and decided their lives were disposable.
Worse yet, others were complicit in this mass slaughter of humans with their silence, with their blind obedience and fear of the same fate befalling them if they were to object.
I’d like to say I can’t imagine someone viewing my children as “other” because of their religious beliefs, sexuality, or the color of their skin. But it’d be a lie. Because we live in America where brown children are viewed as less than and my husband thanks god that they can “pass as white” so perhaps they won’t have the same hardships and prejudices as he’s faced in this life.
As I walked by the memorial sites, all I could think of was that quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
So very many laws were not broken during the Holocaust. Hitler was elected properly and so many people were happy to have the Jewish people as a scapegoat for all that wasn’t quite perfect in their lives.
It was easy for them to dehumanize them and ostracized them, and slowly their humanity devolved as they were filled with hate toward a group of humans who were exactly like them outside of socially created constructs.
So many thoughts and feelings were, and still are, jumbled and scattered in my brain and in my heart that I just cannot articulate well at this point.
We, as human beings, and not for the first time in history, allowed for something so horrific to happen. And if we aren’t careful, we will allow for it to happen again. And that is why not just knowing, but truly understanding history is invaluable and absolutely imperative.
Needless to say, I’m holding my babies a little tighter.
And reflecting on the image of my little girl, taking a photo of the tombstone of a little girl not so unlike herself; bound by the beauty and faults that is humanity; and the desire to see the good in the world, even in the moments when it’s challenging to find.