Holocaust Remembrance Day

Few television shows have had the impact on me that this one did.

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.

A colorized image of an eighteen year old Russian girl liberated from Dachau in 1945

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?

LEFT: View of a open door on one of the ovens at Auschwitz concentration camp, near Oswiecim, Poland, 1940s. The ovens were primarily used to incinerate the corpses of those inmates who were executed in gas chambers. (Photo by Gabriel Hackett/Getty Images) RIGHT: LUBLIN, POLAND: A pile of human bones and skulls is seen in 1944 at the Nazi concentration camp of Majdanek in the outskirts of Lublin, the second largest death camp in Poland after Auschwitz, following its liberation in 1944 by Russian troops. (Photo credit should read AFP/Getty Images)
Gabriel Hackett, left, and AFP / Getty Images

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.

Victor Frankl with his first wife Tilly Grosser. She was a nurse at Rothschild Hospital. The Nazi’s forced them to abort their child when they learned of a Jewish pregnancy. A year after their marriage they were both arrested along with Victor’s parents. He survives the next three years by holding on to the hope of writing his book and seeing his wife again. When he is liberated in April of 1945, he discovers his parents, his brother, and his wife have all died.
“The best among us did not survive.” “One word could mean the difference between life and death.”

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s