Saturday, January 27, 2007

Remembering the Victims

On this day 62 years ago, Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated by forces from the Soviet Union. People all over Europe commemorate today as Holocaust Memorial Day (called by a different name in some other countries).

Now everyone knows enough about the Holocaust, millions of Jews, Poles, homosexuals, disabled, Roma, communists, blacks, and many more all systematically eliminated with cold, hard, twentieth century efficiency. It is an event that just about everyone has some sort of knowledge about and it really has been ingrained into our collective conscience.

Last February, I had the opportunity to go to Amsterdam. Needless to say it was an amazing trip (yeah make whatever comment you may about that sentence). But one of the highlights of it all was going to see Anne Frank's House. As I'm sure you all know, the Frank family and several of their friends, hid in an upstairs apartment for an extended period of time before they were finally found by the Nazis and sent off to various concentration camps. Anne was sent to Bergen-Belsen where she died of typhoid.

Now the apartment is very small and it is of course, a major tourist destination. As a result you have to filter through in a long, plodding line. I can't help but feel that much of the mystique was lost as a result. However, I still found it very emotional. Me being so crowded and confined for even a short period made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I can not imagine how it must have felt to have been crowded and confined in that small place for such an extended period of time.

Due to the high volume of people I didn't take many pictures while in there. It also somehow felt wrong to do so, I wanted to just look at the pictures she posted on the wall of her bedroom and touch the walls to feel their sadness. I was looking for some pictures of the rooms to post here, but I found this video tour on YouTube...

After you go through the entire house there is a small, but interesting exhibit. They show a series of video clips on contemporary political issues. After the short clip they ask a simple yes or no question and then they display the results of both the room and of all the data they have collected. They present some interesting questions such as, "Should the government be allowed to monitor what people read?", "Should Neo-Nazis be allowed to protest in from of Synagogues on the Sabbath?", "Should the government be allowed to shut down newspapers? (especially in the given example the Spanish government shut down the only Basque language newspaper for terrorist links)", and of course "Should Holocaust deniers be allowed to publish their work on the internet?". Very tough questions that were all aimed at keeping people aware of any potential for a government to remove rights from its citizens, the starting point of any tyranny.

Needless to say, I highly recommend the experience. It is further proof that there is more to Amsterdam than just the hash and the hookers. However there are a few interesting questions that I don't feel were explored enough in here or in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum (a museum dedicated to the history of Amsterdam). They never really explored the notion of Dutch collaboration in the holocaust. A stunning 73% of Dutch Jews were executed during the occupied years. This is the highest out of all Western European nations. It really did not take a large amount of SS officers to force this. The Dutch were very willing participants.

They had no choice you say? Well, over in Denmark, the Danes outright rejected the Final Solution. The government by and large refused to cooperate with the Nazis and were able to save the lives of thousands of Jews. Similar actions were taken by the governments of Bulgaria and Finland. I really don't have any explanations as to why some countries refused and why some so eagerly participated. I just found it most definitely interesting (and not surprising) that such an issue was never really discussed.

I realize that I could go on about this topic forever, so I had best stop here. You really can cut and paste most of my comments from a few weeks ago for Martin Luther King Day, and paste them for this subject. They really are the same issue at hand, social justice. We have come a long, long way in the past 6 or so decades on this issue but still have a long way to go. We are not that far out of the jungle, hate crimes still happen right here in our own back yard. Not to mention the covert forms of discrimination taking place all around us.

But until we get that perfect world, I'm going to have to keep dreaming, and keep remembering. Because if we forget the millions who died along the way then their lives become meaningless, and then we are back where we started.

Until next time,


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Yet Another Special Day

O my love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
My love like the melody
That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonny lass,
So deep in love am I;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love!
And fare thee weel, awhile!
And I will come again, my love
Though it were ten thousand mile.

That little bit of culture was because today is a very special day. That's right, it's Burns Day!!!! The day to celebrate the Scottish National Poet, Robert Burns (as a quick aside: note the use of the word National, that is what Burns is officially know as. Further putting pros into this whole Quebec as a Nation thing, which you can find my opinions of here).

Like most days in Scotland, today is typically filled with excessive drinking and haggis. When I was living there last year, I gathered with many of my Canadian friends (and an Australian for good measure) and we read some of his poems and ate some haggis. Yeah they sell vegan haggis at grocery stores over there. I couldn't make this up. It was hilarious trying to read all of the poems which are of course written in Scots, and presented quite the challenge for those of us who are accently-impaired.

I have taken this opportunity to look at a collection of a number of his poems, and I am amazed at how amazing they are. Sure this man was unfaithful and incredibly lecherous, but I'll be damned if he wasn't smooth. The above listed "Oh, My Love is a Red, Red Rose" is one of his most famous works, but there are so many others!!! For the romantics out there may I also recommend you check out "Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever". And of course if you have some time to kill then check out the epic "Tam O'Shanter. Wikipdeia has an awesome collection of several of his poems, which are well worth checking out.

Last year I went on a bit of a Burns tour, going to a lot of the man's hotspots and places of inspiration. Here I have a couple to share. I hope that you enjoy them!!!

These first two are the Alloway Kirk that gets mentioned in Tam O'Shanter. In the poem it is haunted and full of witches. It still looks kind of creepy to me now.

Here we have the Brig O' Doon, also mentioned in the above poem.

Here we have one of many Burns Monuments , this is right where the Brig is.
This is in Dumfries, the town I was living in. This is Burns's mausoleum. Apparently he was buried in a regular grave but they later dug him up and put him in this big mausoleum instead. It really is a cool graveyard with giant head stones that are taller than I am. It was only a short walk down from my old apartment too.

Anyway, I hope that you all have a Happy Burns Day, eat some (hopefully vegan) haggis and have a wee dram. Or at least go read some really great poetry!!!

Until next time,