Monday, May 9, 2011

Rethinking History

When I was sick a few weeks back, I decided to do some reading.  Somewhere I had gotten a copy of Schindler's List.  I also read The Help.  I know - light reading both of them! :)

I had never read Schindler's List.  I had seen the movie when it came out and was impressed.  But I had seen it as a young just married adult.  I had thought that it was such a horrible thing to happen, and how could people do that and how could people sit and do nothing while it was happening?  I had seen a few concentration camps different times when I was in Europe, and they left an impression on me...

... but it was always "them".  How could "they" do that?  How could "they" sit back and let it happen and not do much about it.  I know some did, but how could  the rest not?  Didn't "they" see?

This year, when I read this book, a thought began to form in my head, and it was decidedly uncomfortable.  We (as in Americans) read about WWII and we have this attitude of superiority.  "We would never do that".  "If I had been there, I would have....."

Would we?  Really?  Would we?

I read this story now as an adult, with some facts that I was never taught in my Christian school textbooks.  Do you know that a ship full of Jews waited on the coasts of the US, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba begging for permission to land?  A ship entirely full of Jewish families.... begging for safety.  And we turned them down.  We did.  Canada did,  Mexico did.  Cuba did.  South America did. We sent them back.  Many of them died in camps.  Families were broken apart.  A few survived.  Only a few.

[  see:   Gerda's Story and Official Policies  and The ship that was turned back]


We did.  This country.  Our country.  Our vast, largely empty country.  A "Christian nation" as we so liked to call ourselves.  And where was the huge outcry from the churches?  Where were people writing, phoning, showing up on the White House lawn insisting that we open our doors?  Demanding that we live up to the spirit of the Statue of Liberty?  Signing up to take financial responsibility for a family, to guarantee that the government would have no burden on it for these Jews?

Our churches were silent.  Our families were silent.  We said nothing as that ship was turned away.  Of course, there were a few who did... but a few?!  Only a few?

This hits me hard.  I have two grandfathers who were pastors.  Did they speak up?

I think we have no right to judge others for their silence.

 Do you know who did take in Jews?  The Dominican Republic.  They offered to take 50,000 to 100,000 Jews.  The Dominican Republic has a land mass of 50,000  Compare that to the US which has a land mass of over 9 million sq km.  Unfortunately, only 5,000 Jews made it safely to the Dominican Republic before the war broke out.  Still, they opened their doors, something we did not do.

We drive across this vast country from east to west or west to east and often north to south every few years when we visit churches.  Miles and miles of emptiness.  Days of empty land.  As I read Schindler's List, my mind kept going back to the thousands of miles of empty land we drive through.  I'm sure Canada has its share of empty land, too.  As I read, tears began to fill my eyes.

Do you know what I wish?  I wish we had opened not only our doors, not only to one boat, but to all... and provided assistance to get here.  Would it have been easy?  No.  I know that.  It would have been a logistical nightmare.... but a logistical nightmare is far better than a holocaust nightmare.

Six million killed.  We hear that alot.  Six million.  That is about twice the population of Chicago.  I have to believe that between the three countries in North America, we could have wiggled over a little and fit that many people in.

Can you imagine what it would have done for our country to have opened our doors?  What we would have been now?  These were skilled people, with strong family ties....   We mourn now that it seems God has been slowly taking away His blessing from our country.... we shut our doors to His people... have you ever thought about that?

This was an entirely new thought for me.  It had always been "them".  "They" were the ones who did evil.  "They" were the ones who didn't do enough to stop it.

We failed, too.  We failed.  I read the rest of the book with a broken heart instead of my old, slightly superior American attitude that "well, if we had been there, we would have....".  We didn't.  My own family didn't.  I can not read this book and not take responsibility for our own failings.  We didn't.  We didn't even so much as take in one ship load of families that could see our shore and begged us for their lives.  We sent them back to die.

(I know this has nothing to do with my blog's normal entries... but it made a deep impact on me as I read it and is something I had never thought of before.  I want to apologize for our failure, but I also want to apologize for my attitude in that quiet superiority... the  "well, we would have....".)


Rebecca Conduff de Aguirre said...

I hadn't heard about that ship, Ellie, so very sad...Schindler's list had an impact on me as well. I read The Help a few months ago and was deeply moved by this story as well since my heritage is a southern one. Along the lines of what you are saying here, it made me realize that things often aren't so 'clear cut'. I think that it would be easy to say I would have done differently had I been there, but most people don't really go against what they are taught and modeled from birth that easily...those who did showed great courage and selflessness. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed The Help, an amazing story.

OliveTree said...

I hadn't heard of the ship either. There are many things in our national history I'm not proud of, like the Trail of Tears, the forced marches of Cherokees and other Indians off of their lands to other desert land no one wanted. Or the internment of the Japanese during WW II.

You are right. We certainly cannot have a self righteous attitude. Repentance is more fitting.