The (Deafening) Sound of Silence

Save the Children (Tim Spencer)

The message of this mural on a building in Philadelphia caught my attention for its raw power. The occasion may have been different, but the message is the same.

 

Monday, May 21. Mark this date. Only days after the shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, residents and officials are holding a moment of silence in respect to the ten innocent people killedShamor v’ zachor – honor and remember. It’s the right thing to do. It’s what must be done.

May 21… 20 years ago. Before there was Columbine. Before there was Newtown. And Parkland. A student killed two others at Thurston High School in Oregon. Exactly 20 years ago….

Each of these shootings has shocked the nation… and the world. One of the most heart-rending moments was when Paige Curry, one of the students, was interviewed. “Was there a part of you that was like, ‘This could not happen at my school?’” Her response was direct and chilling. “No. It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always felt it would eventually happen here, too.” Was the shooting at Santa Fe “yet another shooting?” Are such tragedies becoming routine? Is this the new normal? “This is not normal and must never be accepted as such,” said Charles M. Blow of the New York Times.

After the silence, we cannot be silent. We must remember. And, more important, we must take action. And that will be the topic of columns to follow.

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Remembering the Past – Finding a Direction for the Future

Some thoughts as Tisha B’Av passes by…

This is a time to remember.  Tisha B’Av is also the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, as it was the day of the destruction of both the First and Second Temple.  In addition, the Nazis, in their warped ideology, decided it would be a suitable day for the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.  This was the time of Korczak’s famous last march, two days after he penned his last diary entry.

Shamor v zachor – observe and remember.  It’s uniquely Jewish and it’s a mitzvah, a moral duty.  Or, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Do remember the past, but do not be held captive by it.”  Learn from the past; don’t dwell on it, but use it to take the right direction, to do good deeds.

With both themes in mind, it is good to reflect on the life of Emmanuel Ringelblum.  Like Korczak, Ringelblum had the opportunity to flee the Warsaw Ghetto but saw it was his duty to remain for a purpose.  Knowing that an event of historic importance was taking place and fearing that nobody would be around to write it, Ringelblum assembled a staff of historians and witnesses to record what they saw.  This information he used for his own journal, to be published as Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto and for an archive.  He called his project and group of witnesses “Oyneg Shabes,” normally a term denoting the joy, oneg, of celebrating Shabbat; these priceless documents telling of the suffering of hundreds of thousands he hid in milk containers buried beneath the rubble.  The Nazis eventually found and executed Ringelblum but were not successful in silencing the voice of the Warsaw Jews.  Historian Samuel Kassov tells of this tragic story in his brilliant, compelling book, Who Will Write Our History?

Both books will be reviewed in this space in greater depth.  For now, let us take the time to remember those who remembered, history guarding memory to tell history.

Emmanuel Ringelblum Warsaw Ghetto Journal

Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum. First English-language hardcover edition. New York: Macmillan, 1958.

 

Kassow Warsaw Ghetto Ringelblum Oyneg Shabes archive history

Samuel D. Kassow, “Who Will Write Our History? Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto.” New York: Vintage, 2007.

 

A Polish Expatriate Remembers His Dad, Who Saved Korczak’s Diary

Roman Wroblewski remembers his father, the man who saved Korczak’s Ghetto Diary so we could remember him.  Dr. Korczak’s last entry was August 4, 1942:

I have watered the flowers, the poor orphanage pants, the pants of the Jewish orphanage. The parched soil breathed with relief.
A guard watched me as I worked.  Does that peaceful work of mine at six o’clock in the morning annoy him or move him?
He stands looking on, his legs wide apart.

. . .

A cloudy morning.  Five thirty.
Seemingly an ordinary beginning of a day.  I say to Hanna: “Good morning!”
In response, a look of surprise.
I plead: “Smile.”
They are ill, pale, lung-sick smiles.

You drank, and plenty, gentleman officers, you relished your drinking – here’s to the blood you’ve shed – and, dancing, you jingled your medals to cheer the infamy to which you were too blind to see.

. . .

Our father who is in heaven…
This prayer was carved out of hunger and misery.
Our daily bread.
Bread.

I am watering the flowers.  My bald head in the window.  What s splendid target.
He has a rifle.  Why is he standing and looking on calmly?
He has no orders to shoot.
And, perhaps, he was a village teacher in civilian life, or a notary, a street sweeper in Leipzig, a waiter in Cologne?
Perhaps he doesn’t even know that things are – as they are?
He may have arrived only yesterday, from far away….

 

Roman Wroblewski

Ghetto Dairy - New    Warsaw Ghetto Memoirs of Janusz Korczak EPK

 

 

And the last photo of Janusz Korczak shows a very worn man, but his spirit still shone.

Last Picture

 

And to note:  On this day, in 1944, Anne Frank and her family were arrested.  Here’s the article from the Anne Frank House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Dr. Paul Winkler, a Man Who Helped Us All to Remember

This month, we lost another champion of Holocaust studies.  Dr. Paul B. Winkler was in charge of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, a position he used to make this critically important subject available to all New Jersey students, teachers, and adults who wanted to learn more.  He was a strong supporter of the Korczak Society of the USA and presented at many conferences and workshops dedicated to the life and work of Janusz Korczak.

winkler

For more information of this wise and gentle scholar, please visit the page in Dr. Winkler’s honor, at the website for the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.  Baruch dayan ha-emet.