Friday, December 18, 2009

Lesson to be Learned

My heart is burdened today. I've just come off a refreshing three day scrapbooking retreat. Along with completing multiple pages, I took the time to really slow down my life. I enjoyed three leisurely solitary walks along the paths of the retreat center. The weather was gorgeous...a short but appreciated Indian Summer, if you will. I drank in the sun, saying goodbye to the warmth and brilliance in yellow, preparing my heart and mind for the short days and long nights of winter--my least favorite of all the seasons. I lost myself in the second book of the Twilight series, recalling days of my youth when falling in love was new and totally intoxicating. Good food, good conversation and even a little restful sleep.

Returning back home, my mind shifted to the demands of the week....a cooking class with my daughter, a den leader's meeting, fall parties, Halloween, sending in the corrections for the school fundraiser, and at the top of my list, finishing my Bible study for this week's time of teaching and worship. I'm studying the book of Esther, a specially designed study guide for women by Beth Moore. Esther has been a revealing look at God's character, his faithfulness and how He provides for those who trust Him, even through events most of us would see as tragic. The struggles of life recorded in Esther between 460 and 350 B.C. and the struggles of today haven't changed much and are still quite pertinent. Along the way I've learned a lot of historic facts of times and places and political/social climate in those pre-Christ days and have noted over and over within these pages that history has found a way of repeating itself into the 20th and 21st centuries.

On Thursday night I found myself mid way through my Bible lesson and emotionally drained. This week was a tough lesson. Genocide, ethnic cleansings, a pre-Hitler holocaust captured and recorded within the pages of Esther. As I closed the book telling myself I would finish the lesson on Monday, a heaviness began creeping in my heart and stayed with me. Even during those quiet walks I found my mind wandering back to the lesson and they continued to sow heaviness and sorrow within my heart and mind. Returning to that lesson today re-opened those raw emotions for me.

One of the greatest gifts we have in today's century is the ability learn about those past events, both blessed and horrific, that have shaped us as a people or nation. The Holocaust is undoubtedly one of most horrific events experienced in our {parent's} generation and there has been a wide array of publications--books, newspaper and Internet articles--even a historically accurate film Schindler's List--to educate and remind us.

For me the Holocaust is personal. Way personal. From October 1, 1944, to August 10, 1947, my mom Hilda, my grandma Anna and my great grandparents Anna and Thomas were imprisoned in the Yugoslavian genocide and slave labor camps that were established by the Russian Red Army under communist Marshal Tito in retaliation of the war. Few people are aware of this genocide. Two million ethnic Germans died in this massacre. No, they are not considered part of the Holocaust nor are their numbers included in the estimated 11 to 17 million people victimized in the hate crime. It is important to make the distinction between the Holocaust and this Donauschwaben account. While linked by the revenge of war, this genocide was a slap in the face to the Germans.

As a society, we are tragically uneducated in this part of our history. Even my own mother was dismally misinformed of her own history. Let me go back to 1993 and the release of Schindler's List. I grew up with knowledge of my mom's history and when asked, she would speak of those years she spent as a child in the camps. The movie release started a dialogue in our country and Steven Spielberg created The Shoah Foundation (Hebrew word for Holocaust) to educate and document actual eye-witness testimony in a visual history format. While my mom openly spoke of her experiences, my grandma would not. My mom was the tender age of 6 when they were initially taken from their homes but my grandma, a very young mother, was only 22 years old. Because she was young, healthy, strong and beautiful, the Russians sent my grandma to Russia to work as a slave laborer. Her experiences were so horrific, so terrifying and so life-altering she could not and would not speak to us about what it was she suffered. Up to her death my grandma refused to speak of those days. Those emotional and psychological wounds were too deep and by sharing her story, she would be sharing the pain--or so she believed. My mom pleaded and begged her to give account--to leave the history for her grandchildren and future generations. Ultimately probably in part because of my grandma's silence, my mom gave me her blessing to contact Steven Spielberg on her behalf. I smile in amusement as I recall her stating that while what her mom went through was important, nothing a 6 year old lived through would have any impact on the world. Mr. Spielberg, she added, would never be interested in her story....

Almost 10 years to the day before her death, Shoah Foundation came out to my parent's home and she gave a 2 1/2 hour video history of her experiences in the camps, and what life was like in Yugoslavia. 

In the shadow of Shoah, it became abundantly clear to Tony and me that while my mom recalled the dates and experiences, they were not lining up with the Holocaust. She would be too young to remember the details. It was in the awesome age of Internet that Tony and I spent probably hundreds of hours researching her history. I began meeting other survivors via the Internet, finding books published about these special camps. In a year's time we were able to present to my mom details of what she went through and why. We began to grasp what it was my grandma had suffered and lost. It was in my quest to understand my mom's heritage that I began to understand the importance of leaving a legacy for our children and to preserve the history. For our history to be correct and documented. Just months before her death, I uncovered her Queen Elizabeth manifest documenting her arrival on U.S. soil.

In the final months of her life my mom wondered why she suffered so much in the beginning of her life -- and now again in the end. Hadn't she paid enough as a child? I told her that I didn't know why God would allow one person to suffer so much but I said that her testimony gives hope to the hopeless. She not only overcame the obstacles in her life, she triumphed and chose victory over defeat, determination and will over failure, and God over Godlessness. Her story needed to be told....needs to be heard.....Maybe now my heavy heart will find that peace.


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