Today we visited the home town of our benevolent survivor. We were warmly welcomed by the local government with quite a bit of hospitality paired with some pomp and circumstance. The president of the town made a point to welcome Howard and gave him an opportunity to share his story. Howard’s message was similar to what he has shared with us before: that we must learn from our past so that we do not allow the horrors of the Holocaust to be repeated. Whenever I hear him speak, as I am sure is true of most of my fellow Classroom Without Borders participants, I am so touched by how he survived such horrible atrocities and can still speak with such kindness and compassion for the world around him. He inspires me to want to be a better person and to strive to make our world a more loving, compassionate place. However, as Howard was speaking today in the town where he, his family, and all of the other Jews were loaded on to trains to face either immediate extermination or unimaginable horrors of life in concentration camps, I was struck by something in the room that was rather small and unassuming but that held so much significance. There, on the wall of this government building, right above what I believe to the seal of Poland (and where Howard was sitting) was a plain, wooden cross. Now of course I understand that a large portion of the Polish population is Catholic and that laws separating church and state are not prevalent in Europe—but it still struck me that here we were honoring a man who had survived the Holocaust, a man who even today, was asking all in attendance to look past our differences and treat each other with acceptance and understanding—and here was a visual representation of the idea that this place, this room, this town—is a place for Christians and if you happen to not also be a Christian that you are an outsider, an other—you don’t belong. It makes me so sad to think that it has been over 75 years since the end of the Holocaust and instead of just showing complete and utter compassion and humility for all that the Jews of Europe suffered, there is still a sentiment that they do not belong, that they are still the other.
“And now a prayer—or rather, a piece of advice: let there be comradeship among you. We are all brothers, and we are all suffering the same fate. The same smoke floats over all or heads. Help one another. It is the only way to survive.” – Elie Wiesel, Night