Monday, September 25th, 2017

Forget Me Knots: The Onus Of Charlottesville

Published on August 18, 2017 by   ·   No Comments Pin It
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I remember watching black and white movies about the holocaust during my Hebrew school tenure. There was an omniscient narrator with a very serious voice who ticked off the atrocities and the casualties of World War II. I recall images of gray lifeless bodies thrown in ditches like sardines.

I was probably 11 or 12 at the time, and I couldn’t really process the gravity of what I was watching. It likely didn’t help that it was black and white since I was living my American life in technicolor. I also read The Diary of Anne Frank around the same time likely because I had too. Although I knew it was inherently awful, it didn’t strike me as tangible enough to trigger the type of anxiety attack to which I was already prone.

Maybe I was too young? Maybe I was more interested in passing notes with my BFF in Hebrew school to truly connect the dots. Who knows?  

I once asked my mother, who was typically nonplussed about anything except weight and appearance, about the Holocaust. “It will happen again,” she warned, exhaling a large puff of smoke from the cigarette that was permanently fixated to her lower lip.

Her premonition did give me chills especially because my mom often told me she was a witch, but she offered no substantiation so I buried it and went about my day to keep from becoming undone.  

I was likely able to eat dinner and sleep without knots in my stomach on these evenings.  

This was not the case on the evening of Saturday August 12, 2017. Earlier that day, one person was killed and 19 were hurt when violence erupted during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The ralliers were a mixed bag of white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Klu Klux Klan members, among others. Some were chanting “White lives matter,” “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us,” while others shouted “blood and soil” (a known-Nazi phrase), carried Nazi flags and exchanged Nazi salutes.

It was chilling.

I regret that I did not realize just how chilling such hate is when I was younger.

Each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we recall the horror and honor those who lost their lives and those who miraculously survived their Nazi captors and torturers. We remember Auschwitz, Dr. Joseph Mendele, The Ravensbrück Rabbits and so many other atrocities. We remember Holocaust survivors both alive and dead. We tell their stories, and we learn from them.

Not talking about hate provides a false sense of security and makes it too easy to think it can’t happen, won’t happen or even worse, that it didn’t happen. The mantras “Never Again” or “Never Forget” are not examples of magical thinking. Instead, they are reminders to stay vigilant and learn from history.

Hate festers in many ways. Not calling it out and not calling it what is are some of these ways.  What happened in Charlottesville was hatred coming to a boil. What happened afterward when the sitting US President failed to call these haters to task gives hatred both legs and legitimacy – a dangerous combination.

I was lucky as a child that this hatred didn’t seem quite so concrete. My children are not as lucky. These things are happening and they are happening here – not across the Ocean. I want my children to be informed, but not complacent; innocent, but not naïve, and prepared, but not scared.

We must never forget, and that onus is on us all – even children.

I get that now.

Denise Mann is a freelance health writer in New York. Her articles regularly appear in WebMD, Newsday, cnn.com, Everyday health, Reader’s Digest and special sections of the Wall Street Journal.

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