Sunday Reflections: There Are No Other Sides to Some Issues
TW: Holocaust, Genocide and Other Forms of Racial Violence are Discussed
A very old lady stood before us all in a crowded high school gymnasium and showed us her tattoo. It was a series of numbers given to her by the Nazis that held her captive in the concentration camp. She told us stories of being captured, riding on a train, standing in lines to receive very little food. She told us of people she loved disappearing in the night. She told us of the family that never got to see her grow up because they did not survive the camps.
That was more than 30 years ago for me and I can still remember her face. Her arm outstretched. The numbers that they used to try and make her seem less than human.
This past week, audio was shared online of a teacher telling other teachers in the Southlake school district in Texas to make sure they had an alternate point of view available if they were teaching about the Holocaust. What, exactly, is an alternate point of view to the Holocaust.
That it didn’t happen? We have tons of primary sources in the form of movie reels, photographs, diaries, legislation and the concentration camps themselves that prove the Holocaust was real. There is no denying the Holocaust, though I know that many have been trying for years.
That it was acceptable? More than 6 millions Jews were killed as well as many others with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community. Genocide can not be acceptable. Ever.
That the Nazi methods may have been bad, but their goals were desirable? I am the child of a man who dedicated his life to serving this country and fighting for Democracy. Though our Democracy is imperfect, I will never accept the idea that authoritarianism or fascism is a desirable goal. I will not spit on the grave of my father and dishonor his memory in that way. Nor will I dishonor my fellow human beings who deserve to have their basic human rights honored. I feel the people who are governed should have a voice, a vote, in how they are governed.
We must teach every generation about the Holocaust so that it doesn’t happen again. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our past and the potential for darkness in each and every one of us to help keep us moving towards the light.
There is this growing sentiment that teaching our children about the darkness in our past will cause them to hate this country, or themselves. But what if, instead, being honest about the past and showing how we can learn and grow and change was teaching them to love themselves, and the people around them. When I look back at my life and the things that I have suffered, the harm that was done to me and sometimes by me, I don’t feel shame or self hatred, I feel proud of myself for overcoming it, for learning from it, for healing, and for growing. I feel proud of myself for allowing myself to become the person that I am instead of allowing myself to stay trapped in the past. Sometimes it has meant that I have had to had hard conversations with myself and other people. It has meant that I have had to admit wrongs, ask for forgiveness, and even just learn how to deal with difficult losses. But allowing yourself to learn and grow is a powerful, empowering feeling. Reaching towards the light is so much more profound than staying rooted in darkness.
When Riley was in the 6th grade, her class to a school trip to the Holocaust museum. It disturbed her greatly and she cried for days. We talked about it a lot. And just last year Thing 2 read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry in her 6th grade class. I’m glad that both of my daughters learned about this horrific part of human history because we must be honest with ourselves and each other about what we are capable of. Psychologist Carl Jung talked about the idea of the shadow self; it’s this notion that we all have the capacity for great darkness inside of us and that we must be honest with ourselves about it in order to control it. Denial doesn’t make the truth go away, it just makes it more likely for it to sneak up and hurt us.
I am a person of great and tremendous faith. I am a Christian. But the truth is, many great atrocities have been committed in the name of the very faith I have devoted my life to. We burned witches, led Crusades, stole Indigenous children from their families and buried them in unmarked graves and we bought and sold Black people pretending that we were somehow better than them despite the clear evil we were inflicting on the world. Being a Christian and proclaiming the Gospel doesn’t make me perfect and it does not exempt me from the laws of this land nor does it exempt me from honest self reflection. In fact, I would argue, the very nature of the Gospel demands that I must constantly be engaging in self reflection and growth in a way that betters not only myself, but those around me. The Christian faith is a communal faith based on loving one another.
I am an American and I love my country. But the truth is, many great atrocities have been committed in the name of “democracy” and “America first”. Treaties have been broken, Japanese Americans were put in our own enslavement camps, and we still treat people of color, LGBTQ people, and women as second class citizens with disposable rights. Many of these great atrocities are still, as I write this, being committed. Our history isn’t even history, not really. But Democracy is an active process in which we must engage repeatedly and it, too, must be working towards betterment of each other and the whole because democracy is about living in community with others. Democracy does not work if everyone has a me first and me only mentality.
By the way, we have factual primary sources that document all of the above. Your librarian can help you get your hands on it.
Denying the truths of who we are, where we’ve been, and the work we need to do to be better doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t even, not really, help the people who don’t want things to change because they think they will lose their status, their power or their money. The truth is, our country thrives, when as many individuals who live within it thrive. When we raise people up out of poverty we have less crime, lower health care costs, healthier workers with more company loyalty, and higher educational achievement which leads to innovation and growth.
One of the reasons I am a librarian is because I believe that knowing about the past can help us to make a better future for ourselves and each other. We preserve centuries of first person accounts, called primary sources, so that the whole of human history can be studied, shared, and learned from. But as a human being, as a Christian, as an American, and as a mother, there are just personally some things that I can not fathom and this idea that there can or should be some alternative view to the Holocaust is one of them. I can still, these 30 years later, close my eyes and see the face of that women standing before me. Her truth deserves to be told. And in telling them, we can learn to be better for ourselves, and for one other. The truth can set us free, even the hard ones.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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