In the winter of 1994 my grandmother took me to the movie theater one Friday evening. I was a teenager at the time and hoped (unrealistically) that we would be going to see Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Not because I was a big fan of Jim Carrey but because I was still stuck in the phase of wanting to impress classmates. Instead she purchased two tickets to something called Schindler's List. We took our seats in the old theater and to my surprise the film revealed a black and white image. I was too young to understand the profound message of that movie and just kept asking why it wasn’t in color. Although I enjoyed historical pieces and was 13 years old the imagery was too much for me to handle and I ended up waiting outside in the lobby.
Growing up in a protestant home and going to catholic schools I did not have a lot of connection with Judaism, so antisemitism never made any sense to me. While I didn’t know any Jews personally, I could see absolutely no reason they would be hated for their faith after all they worshiped the same God as the Christians. Not that racism or sexism are in any way forgivable but in my young mind there was at least some distinct difference that you could point to and identity someone’s race or gender. With religious persecution there was almost never any visual queue. In a rather surreal conversation, I approached my father on the topic.
I love my father, but time has taught me that we saw the world very differently. Although he had strong feelings about African Americans and LGBTQ individuals there was nothing but respect for Native Americans and Jews. The inconsistent message still confuses me to this day. I suspect that there were some experiences in his past that lead to dogmatic viewpoints in each of these cases. “Hating someone for their faith is just a sign of ignorance”, he told me. “Judaism is among the oldest faiths and while they are confused about Jesus, they are our brothers under God”.
Over the years I’ve read a great deal about the holocaust and the horrors exhibited by German guards “just doing their duty”. I read the diary of Anne Frank and one line has forever stuck with me, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart”. I try to reflect on that when I see hate and divisive words in the news. If she could be faced with oblivion and still find a positive outlook how can I let these comparatively trivial things get me down?
In 2010 my then girlfriend (now wife) and I visited Prague for my birthday and we toured the Old Jewish Cemetery and Museum. Among the staff were survivors of the Holocaust who shared their personal stories and the history of the cemetery. You would expect that having undergone such tragedy they would have spite in their voice, but the tone was more reverent and hopeful. They were thrilled to be able to share their stories and to see people still showed interest. Only by learning from history and growing from it can we prevent the sins of our fathers from returning and keep the memory of those lost alive.
As an adult I try to keep an open mind an encourage my children to do the same. When we visited the Washington DC area in 2018 we were lucky enough to visit The National Holocaust Centre and Museum. This is a remarkable place and the experience sticks with you. If you have the opportunity I highly recommend allocating at least 4 or 5 hours to take it all in.