Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Does it Matter?

Inspired by the Holocaust conference at Pacific Lutheran, I began to write small essays to convey my thoughts on that experience.  The blog that I created to understand my heritage had remained idol for years.  Even if the audience had been only me, I would have found it to be good therapy.   I began writing; chronicling thoughts on what I experienced.  However, the endeavor was derailed temporarily, shelved for a short time after a visit to my sister.

I shelved my essays, decided that it didn’t matter.  I wasn’t sent out in to the world with a toolbox that had any useable tools.  The tools I have; I created and collected myself.  They are the essays I write to sort out the past and plan the future.  Responding to negativity by ignoring and hiding from it doesn’t serve my purpose.

Pacific Lutheran University has a Holocaust Center.  Yearly, they offer the Powell-Heller Conference on the Holocaust, now in its ninth year.  This year’s subject interested it me, Women and the Holocaust.  I attended the conference for the first time.  My daughter Kerrie and her two daughters attended programs with me.  However, we haven’t gathered to share what we learned from those programs.  Sharing experiences is not a trait that I possess.  Sharing is not a trait my Opa and Oma possessed.  I wonder how the unspoken words in their house tainted me.
My sister is a very negative person.  She is sixteen months younger than I am.  She also witnessed underlying tensions during our formative years in our grandparent’s house that had no explanation.  The same as I had.  My sister knew as little about the maternal family history that fueled those negative currents in that home as I did.  We grew up with German Lutheran immigrants who came to the U.S. because of the political climate.  Not Holocaust survivors. We witnessed and overheard snippets, but when things escalated, they reverted to speaking in German.  She now knows her Mother’s family is Jewish.  She now has some knowledge of the family history, preferring to stay in her own imaginative world instead.  She studied fairy and folk tales in school and is more at ease with the Norwegian trolls of her father’s heritage.  However, my sister’s bitterness over Opa and Oma’s presence in her life is still the fuel that starts her day.  She asked what I had been doing at Pacific Lutheran University for three days.
I shared a great session featuring Olga KaczmarekI, the director for the Polish Forum for Dialogue.  Poland is 95% Roman Catholic today and there is little knowledge among the youth to explain why their country has such a single, ethnic make-up.   There is a project in Poland to educate the young people in Poland about the Holocaust.  Many of the villages had a 20% to 85% Jewish population prior to the Holocaust.  The last exodus of Jews from Poland happened in 1968, according to the speaker.  After the war, Poland was under Communist rule.  The Polish Universities had a large Jewish population of educators who left in 1968 because of the political climate.  The Jewish people value education and knowledge. The hole has never been filled.  
I shared the Polish session with my sister. She informed me that she read all of the Holocaust stories.   She talked about Jewish people trying to locate prized family heirlooms that were trusted to those they thought of as friends, to be kicked out of their former homes as they recognized their parent’s prayer shawls used as table cloths. She talked with clench fists about stories she had no context for. 
I retreated to my fertile mind and found myself imaging my sister standing in a bread line with an oversized basket, watching a woman in front of her with a much smaller basket receive two loaves of bread.  I imagined her staring at the woman’s basket, then looking at the two loaves of bread in her oversized basket.  My sister would,  and I have no doubt,  be screaming and yelling that they filled the other person’s basket more than half full and that her basket was more than half empty. 
During the conference, I heard a story about Nazis removing Jewish farmers from their farms and moving in non-Jewish people.  These orchestrated relocations were done in a day long blitz.  After the war, a Jewish farmer visited his former farm.  Trying to assure the occupants that he wasn’t there to reclaim it, just to see it; he showed the current tenants his name carved in a tree.  The people asked where the gold was.  The Jewish farmer told them there was no gold. He was just a farmer. They wouldn't believe it, couldn’t believe it.  Shortly afterward, the whole farm was bulldozed in an effort to find the gold.
History is replete with stories of the conflicts between the Jewish people and their neighbors.  Is it a half full, half empty conundrum?  

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