I had to look up the date, since I was too young back then to keep track of such details. It was April 16, 1978. I would have been six years old. About to graduate from Kindergarten. Carter had been in office two years. The Vietnam War had ended not quite three years before, and America was doing our level best to forget it. The whole country had decided that we were intent on taking care of ourselves. The hippies had introduced a drug culture that was evidently here to stay, but nobody wanted to protest anymore. Above all else, we wanted to be free of the sins of the past, and dance the night away. And the Bee Gees had eight number one songs that year. Many of them I actually loved, and still do. The mellow, but also haunting tune of “How Deep is Your Love,” and “Too Much Heaven.” Saturday Night Live had become the Saturday night special. And a child addicted to Television who was just learning how to read watched his share of Happy Days, Lavern and Shirley, and The Incredible Hulk. Maybe I’m painting too idyllic of a picture, but I do it to paint the picture of a child who was about to lose an enormous portion of his innocence.
Because on April 16, 1978, the miniseries Holocaust aired.
I don’t remember much about the show. I remember the Jews being imprisoned. I remember naked prisoners being lined up along an enormous ditch being machine gunned down. I remember thousands going placidly to their deaths, and some few putting up resistance only to lose their lives in the end, never knowing that the right side won the war. A dark fury filled me, and I swore I would never give up on life like so many did. I’d never give up without a fight.
That was roughly thirty three years after the real holocaust. And now, roughly forty four years have passed, and I have learned that life can taste as bitter as ashes, and that bullies not only win sometimes, but sometimes there is no Allied army coming in to save you. Eventually, we all die.
For several years I tried to erase the memory of that film. The naked prisoners, the people walking like frightened sheep to their deaths. Likely I will never really forget it. I’d learned a year or two before that we are all going to die….but to die like that?
I learned a bit about the Holocaust, and I kept some of that fury, and I hoped the world would never see such things again (though, alas, it has). But I never really focused on it. My own struggles with depression and loneliness, health problems, they helped me in the sense that the memory of this show was largely repressed. I frankly forgot I’d ever seen it. In my efforts to get well, I came across the word of Victor Frankl. His most famous work Man’s Search for Meaning, is the most haunting work of psychology (frankly, one of the most haunting books) I’ve ever read. It tells of Frankl’s struggles to survive and to stay sane in Auschwitz are one of the most difficult, but to my mind one of the most essential reads of a lifetime. He survived three years, from 1942 till the liberation in 1945. And the stories he tells made me realize that I wasn’t really having it so bad, not compared to that. If Frankl could survive, I had to at least try.
I’d forgotten the miniseries though. Till one day, working for an ex employer that made me believe that the same spirits that moved the Nazis are in fact alive and well in twenty first century America, a friend of mine responded to one of my most typical questions, “What is your favorite book?”
His answer was “The Holocaust.” He told me the story, about how it ended.
And the repressed memory from forty years before came rushing in. I remember.
I know we all would love to forget that people can be so inhuman to each other. But we must never forget. We must do our best to ensure this never happens again. Even knowing that likely, this is a fools dream. Maybe not in our lifetime, if God is kind. But I am almost certain, another Holocaust will happen again.
It is our nature.