Dangerous TImes

If you received a phone call from Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales or Moderator Jim Key asking you to assist Ugandan gay refugees to flee that country into South Africa or the United States, would you say yes? Would you say yes, if it meant you had to volunteer your time and depend on whatever resources you could raise? Would you say yes, if it meant leaving your 2 year old daughter and 5 year old son behind?

These are dangerous times to be gay in Uganda and Gambia. Now to my knowledge, Peter Morales or Jim Key has not asked anyone to go into Uganda to assist the Unitarian Universalists there in helping sexual minorities and those suspected to be sexual minorities in fleeing the country.

But such a phone call occurred for Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp prior to World War II. They were asked to go to Czechoslovakia to provide support to the Unitarians of that country. The Unitarians had already been making inroads for an underground network but now there was a need to have someone or someones to move people through that network to safety.

Some background. The Rev. Norbert Capek had established the largest Unitarian congregation in the world in Prague with 3800 plus members. Unitarianism because of its inclusivity as a creedless faith became a safe refuge for Jews in Czechoslovakia. In 1938, the Munich Accord gave Germany the region of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. Refugees were being tortured and shot by the Nazis as they fled for Prague. When the Sudetenland fell to German control in 1938, the American Unitarian Association sent ‘commissioners’ to assess the needs of the refugees and the Prague church.

The phone call came to the Sharp’s towards the end of 1938. When Waitstill questioned why them; he was told that 17 people were asked first. Waitstill asked if his understanding was correct that 17 people were asked and said no to this request to assist Unitarians and refugees in Czechoslovakia. Would you be one of the 17? It is a very hard question to answer.

Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp were distraught over what was happening in Europe. ‘These were our friends’; Waitstill would state later and something needed to be done. While reluctant to leave their two young children, the Sharps set sail for Prague on February 1st 1939, on March 15th the Nazis marched into Prague. The Sharps escorted Jews out of Prague and across Germany to freedom in England. They were followed by the gestapo. They burned their notes and documents to protect the people they were helping. They found their offices ransacked and furniture thrown onto the streets. And when they left in August 1939 to return to the States, they discovered afterwards that they were days away from arrest by the Gestapo.

The following year, they were called again by Unitarian President, Frederick May Eliot, to go to Paris to set up offices to assist people escaping Europe. Unfortunately, when they left for Europe this time, France fell to the Germans before they arrived. They moved their office to neutral Portugal. From Lisbon, among the many tasks they undertake, they managed to arrange for the escape of some 29 children and 10 adults to leave Nazi-occupied Europe to the United States. It was while they were in Portugal that the flaming chalice became a symbol for their official documents. The Sharp’s work combined with the founding of the Unitarian Service Committee ensured the rescue of 3500 families from Nazi controlled Europe. The Sharp’s became known as the ‘Guardian Angels of European children.’

Waitstill and Martha Sharp were posthumously honored as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel. Of the more than 20,000 non-Jews who risked their lives on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust, only four Americans have received such distinction to date.

Flash forward to February 1965. These were dangerous times to be in the south. Jimmy Lee Jackson had been shot in attempts to stop the beating of his mother by police during a non-violent protest in Marion, AL over the arrest of a Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader. There was outrage over Jackson’s death and a march was planned to carry his coffin from Marion to the capitol steps in Montgomery in protest of his wrongful death. This march was re-routed to begin in Selma and as the marchers crossed the Edmond Pettus Bridge they were brutally beaten by Alabama State Troopers. The horrendous force used by the police christened this day as Bloody Sunday. The next day, Martin Luther King, Jr. issued a call to clergy from across the nation to come to Selma, AL to join them.

One young Unitarian minister, James Reeb in Massachusetts heard this call. He had been working as a community minister in the inner city of Boston. While the issues facing people of color in Boston were not the same as the issues facing those in the Deep South, the core roots of the issues were the same: institutionalized racism. James Reeb spoke with several people about leaving for Selma that day. He was reminded of the dangers but he decided this is where he needed to be. He tucked his children into bed and caught an 11 PM flight for Atlanta and then another plane to Montgomery. By morning, he was joined by some fifty other Unitarian Universalist ministers who also answered the call.

The day of the march, there was an injunction against it and Governor Wallace was not going to lift it. The question was clear, obey the injunction or obey the moral call? King announced his decision to the people who assembled: “I’ve made my choice this afternoon. I’ve got to march. I’d rather have them kill me on the highway than butcher me in my conscience.” (Mendelsohn, 1966)

King led the march over the bridge where they were met by State Troopers who told them they could proceed no further. Could they pray, King asked? So there were prayers for those injured on the previous Sunday and prayers for those who caused the injury, the very police standing there blocking their passage.

King explained the reasoning for what happened to those participating: “We decided we had to stand and confront the State Troopers who committed the brutality Sunday. We did march and we did reach the point of the brutality … and we had a prayer service and a freedom rally. And we will go to Montgomery next week in numbers no man can number.” (Mendelsohn, 1966)

Later that evening, James Reeb with the Reverends Orloff Miller and Clark Olsen went for dinner at an integrated diner not far from the gathering place. As they left Walker’s Café, they hear four white men calling them the infamous derogatory slur. They quicken their pace, and Clark turns around just as he sees one of the men swing a club or a pipe as if aiming at a baseball.

James Reeb is struck down. He is incoherent and in pain. The ambulance gets a flat tire just outside of Selma. They wait for another ambulance. The police surround the second ambulance and question them. They refuse to provide escort. The nearest hospital that will treat him from Selma is Birmingham. His injuries are too great; he is removed from life support and dies two days later. His death became the lightening rod President Johnson needed to pass the Voting Rights Act.

In the eulogy that Martin Luther King gave he attempted to answer the question of not who but rather what killed him. He states: “James Reeb was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows. He was murdered by the irrelevancy of a church that will stand amid social evil and serve as a taillight rather than a headlight, an echo rather than a voice.”
The truth is what killed James Reeb is the same that killed 6 million Jews and 3 million political prisoners and homosexuals in Germany. It is the same that created the genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. It is the same for threats against sexual minorities in Uganda and Gambia—where homosexuality is seen as a worse threat than hunger, disease, and abject poverty.

If you received a phone call to act on behalf of justice, would you answer yes? These are also dangerous times. Every generation has to answer the call before them. The Sharps and others answered the call in the 1940’s. Reeb and other clergy answered the call in the 1960’s.

And closer to home it is the same people who stand by indifferently as people’s rights are eroded away under the guise of religious freedom in Mississippi to allow businesses to discriminate against sexual minorities or here in Alabama to allow nurses and doctors to refuse to treat a woman who has an abortion, regardless of reason.

There really is no difference between the death sentences for being gay in Uganda and refusal to sell to a gay person in Mississippi. It is only a matter of degree of the indignity suffered. They are rooted in the same ignorance, the same intolerance, the same hatred against humanity’s diversity.

And while we can easily point to the atrocity of what is happening in Uganda or in Syria or in Ukraine as being dangerous times, it is harder, much harder to point out what makes living in America today as also living in dangerous times. We are like the frogs in the pot of water with the water slowly increasing in temperature and when it hits boiling it will be too late for us to jump out.

What makes this time dangerous is the very eroding of the values that we have based this nation upon. The Supreme Court has made it easier to undermine the protections of the voting rights act. The Supreme Court has ruled money equals speech. The Supreme Court has weakened the Affirmative Action mandates. Alabama passes legislation that allows medical personnel to discriminate against patients whose choices offend someone’s religious doctrines. Mississippi passes legislation that allows businesses to discriminate against sexual minorities under the false guise of religious freedom. Yet we remain passive like those frogs in tepid waters. The Democratic process is a core principle to our faith yet we take it for granted and assume it is safe from harm.

I see a lot of feigned outrage in society today. People outraged that the owner of a sports team declared his bigotry. People outraged that a sheriff in New Hampshire called the President the N word. People outraged over the racist remarks of a rancher. A group of students up in arms over the denial of admittance to a sorority on campus but not one ounce of outrage when the student government refuses to officially integrate the Greek system. Feigned outrage over one person’s slight not one protest over the institutional racism that sways power over others. Hypocrites! We as a nation are more concerned about the blatant surface appearances of racism than the hardcore insipid reality of it that courses through our veins. Symbolic rage while the system churns on its racist oppressive policies unabated.

These are dangerous times. We don’t need to travel across the world or even across the country to address it, the call is right here in Tuscaloosa.

Sixty years ago this month we commemorate the anniversary of a major integration victory that declared that separate is not equal in education. Central High School became the pride of post Brown v Board of Education. It was fully integrated with successful students of all races. The school district proclaimed that they were successful for a generation in integration and therefore no longer needed the court mandated integration ruling. Tuscaloosa claimed they would continue integration without being told but Tuscaloosa lied. Tuscaloosa voted to build two high schools and then gerrymandered the district to not only racially but economically segregate Central. The students in Central High School are being prepared not for a better life but for a life of continued poverty and very likely for prison. Central’s top students are not even able to qualify on college entrance exams.

We live in a nation where 1 in 3 black males born today will spend time in prison. We live in a nation where 1/3rd of black students between grades 7 and 12th grade are suspended or expelled from school. Tuscaloosa because of gerrymandered district lines has created a disproportionate number of whites and middle class blacks to attend the wealthier North Ridge and Paul Bryant schools. Central High is 99% black and predominantly poor. 80% of their students qualify for the federally funded school lunch program. Tuscaloosa’s 2012 Demographic study for a school district that told the Supreme Court that they could ensure integration of all of their schools, does not even mention the racial or economic breakdown in this report. Tuscaloosa has lied again. Where is the outrage over this injustice? But keep one pledge out of a sorority and we are up in arms over the indignity.

These are dangerous times not because of the potential of loss of life, though if we continue on this path of oppression it could result in this, but because of the loss of our moral compass as a people.

I never quite understood the scripture verses where it states that our fight is with principalities and powers, until now. It is not the spiritual warfare against demons as our Christian siblings believe, but rather against those human made systems that rob humanity from reaching its full potential. Racism is a power and the system in which it flourishes is the principality.

The principalities and powers of yesterday included fascist governments. Today they include the superficial righteous who parade their holy scriptures with no true understanding of the words or the spirit of love those scriptures contain. They hide behind the feigned outrage over the symptoms of racism while encouraging the real forces of racism and oppression to press on unfettered and unaccounted.
It is up to us to answer the call even in the midst of these dangerous times to call out the false outrage and point towards the heart of the matter. Even to do this takes courage because the temptation is to go with the flow and join the chorus du jour but this is the task before us to root out injustice where ever it grows. From east to west, north and south, we are called to speak to our Unitarian Universalist principles in a nation that has forgotten the true meaning of our founders’ words of inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and which are echoed in the words of our pledge: liberty, and justice for all.

The only way these words can become true in America is if we seek to ensure that our neighbor, regardless of their creed, race, sexual / gender identity or class has at their disposal all the resources necessary to reach their full potential. When my neighbor does not have the resource then I become the poorer for it.

This is the call that the Sharps answered. This is the call that James Reeb answered. They went to ensure their neighbor is treated the way they would want to be treated. This is the way of love. This is the mantle that is laid down before each of us. Will we pick that mantle up in these dangerous days? I pray that we will in our own way and according to our own conscience.
Martha Sharp is said to have asked her grandchildren, ‘What important work are you going to do for the world?’


Dangerous Times was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL by Rev. Fred L Hammond 18 May 2014 (c)

Yom HaSho’ah

Yom HaSho’ah by Rev. Fred L Hammond delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa in Alabama on 11 April 2010 (c)

Yom HaSho’ah was presented as a day of remembrance for Jews and it has been embraced by other faith traditions so that we will never forget the millions of lives nor the horrors that occurred. It is in the hope that we will learn its lessons to never allow it to happen again.   Unfortunately, this day of remembrance in recent years has also included remembrance of holocausts that have occurred since this time period.  The genocides in Cambodia, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and in Darfur have been incorporated in honoring all the lives lost.   New countries are being added to the list of atrocities by the non-profit organization called Genocide Watch.   There are things that we can do to help prevent the conditions that allow genocide to occur.

Anne Frank, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Norbert Capek, Solomon Perel, Elie Weisel, Bruno Bettelheim, Rena and Danka Kornreich, Corrie tenBoom, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, and Oscar Schindler.  These are only a few of the names of people who died, who survived, and who helped rescue a few of the lives caught up in the web of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.  Here are some of their stories.

Danka and Rena Kornreich were sisters and the youngest of the Kornreich family in Tylicz, Poland.  There was a small Jewish community there and the Jews and Gentiles lived in relative peace together.  There was a young gentile by the name of Andrzej Garbera who had a crush on Rena… it was a crush that was mutual albeit forbidden by Jewish custom. Theirs was a secret affair kept afar.  He wanted to marry Rena but Rena turned him down because to do so would have broken her parents’ heart.  When the Germans invaded Poland, it was Andrzej who assisted in Rena’s escape to the border into Slovakia.  He assisted many Jews to escape to the border.  One night on his return from the border there was a search by the SS with dogs. He hid in a tree for the night; nearly frozen he fell out of the tree.  The next day some of the villagers found him and brought him home but he contracted pneumonia and died a few weeks later.

Rena in an effort to protect those who gave her shelter in Slovakia decided to turn herself in and enlist for the German Work Camps.  She is taken to Auschwitz where she is tattooed with the number 1716.  The huge sign at the gates, declares “Work will make you free.”  And everyone entering Auschwitz with Rena that day believes the sign.  “‘We are young,’ we remind ourselves. ‘We will work hard and be set free. We will see what happens.’ But on the outside we are walking as if we are doomed.  It is raining, chilled like March rain. We are lost in thought but it is too cold to do much thinking.  Everywhere is gray.  My heart is turning gray. “

“There are men along the barbed-wire fences, in striped jackets, caps, and pants, watching us. Their eyes reflect nothing.  I think to myself, This must be an insane asylum, but why would they make the mentally ill work?  That’s not fair.” [1]

A few months later, she is reunited with her younger sister, Danka.  Danka is frail of health and Rena worries about her surviving the harsh conditions of the coming winter.  Rena is selected by Dr. Mengele for a “special” work detail.  Rena thinks this might be an indoor job as he has done in the past and arranges for Danka to join her.   They are sent to a room where they fed more than their daily ration of slice of bread and broth.  They think that perhaps this is a good thing for all concerned. After a few days they are told to remove their uniforms–Uniforms that once belonged to Russian prisoners of war who were shot –and to wear dresses with aprons.   Rena notices that they are not asked to place their numbers by which they are known on the outfits.  She sees one of the elites remove a young woman from the line up.  She notices the woman did this with an air of authority. And decides she and Danka must get out of this group.  With bravery, with a feeling of self-importance they return back to where their uniforms were.  The uniforms are all piled up and together, if they can get their uniforms back on they might be able to be in time for roll call.  Frantically, they find their numbers and change back into their uniforms. They run back outside where the roll call is still taking place, they are in time and they are counted.

A few days later, Rena hears that the special work detail was for sterilization and shock treatments.  All of the women either died from the shock treatments or from the infection that set in from the sterilization procedure.   Rena tells in her narrative, “There is a pressure screaming for release against my eyes, I don’t cry.  It takes time to cry and there is no time.  I fight to find a reason, but there is no reason in this place.  What did they do when they discovered there were three numbers missing in the experiment detail?  Did the woman who snuck her cousin or sister out of line just place somebody else in her place?  Why didn’t they search us out?—they had our numbers written on a list.  Why are we alive and the other girls we were selected with not?   Will there ever come a time when we can thank God for being alive today before we have to ask the same privilege tomorrow, and the next day?  Is life a privilege or a curse?”[2]

Bruno Bettelheim, a survivor of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps writes in The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age, “to have some small token experiences of being active and passive, each on one’s own, and in mind as well as body—this, much more than the utility of any one such activity, was what enabled me and others like me to survive.  By contrast, it was the senseless tasks, the lack of almost any time to oneself, the inability to plan ahead because of sudden changes in camp policies, that was so deeply destructive.  By destroying man’s ability to act on his own or to predict the outcome of his actions, they destroyed the feeling that his actions had any purpose, so many prisoners stopped acting. But when they stopped acting they soon stopped living.”  [3]

Danka and Rena Kornreich are among the survivors of the Holocaust.  Their actions enabled them to survive.  When one sister despaired of life, it was the other sister that acted on both of their behalves.  Of course not all people who took on small actions of deliberate choice in the holocaust survived to see the liberation of the camps by the allied forces.   But if Bettelheim is correct, it is these small acts, no matter how insignificant in our eyes, that enabled the survivors to retain some level of integrity.


Solomon Perel’s story is a remarkable and unbelievable true story of courage and wit.  The Perel family were shoemakers in Germany and were persecuted by continual vandalism.  In 1935, they relocated in Poland.  When the Germans invaded Poland, Solomon and his brother Isaak attempted to escape to Soviet-occupied Poland.  The brothers were separated and Solomon, lived in a Soviet orphanage.   When the orphanage was taken over by the Germans, because of Solomon’s perfect German, he was able to convince them that he was a German living outside of Germany.  He adopts the name of Josef Perjell. The German soldiers took him in as a German-Russian interpreter.  He played a key role in the capture of Stalin’s son, an officer in the Soviet Army.  This made him a hero in the eyes of the Germans.   However, he had to continually hide his true identity and being circumcised was made all the more difficult.

Because he was a minor, he was sent to a Hitler youth school in Germany.  He did what he had to do in order to survive. He “does confess later on that it was difficult to play the role he did where he had to pretend to be German. He writes in his autobiography, ‘I gradually suppressed my true self. Sometimes I even ‘forgot’ that I was a Jew.’”[4] Yet, he pledges that the essence of who he is would never be exterminated.   Solomon survives the war, learns of the fate of his family, learns for the first time of the horrors of the concentration camps and is reunited with his brothers David and Isaak.  Solomon moves to Israel in 1948.

It is only before a critical open-heart surgery that he decides to tell his story.  Part of his delay in telling this incredible story was because in his words, “What would those who had survived the death camps think of me?” (Perel, p. 196) “I constantly found myself comparing their bitter fate with what I had endured, and I realized how much life had spared me.” (Perel, p.200-201.)[5] While this story seems too incredible, it is estimated by researcher Bryan Riggs, that several hundred Jews masquerade as German soldiers in order to survive Nazi Germany.   Survivor guilt is strong in the people who lived to see the end of the war and the end of the holocaust.


“Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp were American Unitarians who visited Norbert Capek’s Unitarian congregation in Prague, Czechoslovakia throughout the 1920’s and 30’s.  When Czechoslovakia fell to the Nazis in 1938, the American Unitarian Association chose to send ‘commissioners’ to assess the needs of the refugees and the Prague church.  Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp were distraught over what was happening in Europe.  ‘These were our friends’, Waitstill would state later and something needed to be done.[6] While reluctant to leave their two young children, the Sharps arrived in Prague in 1939, the very day that the Nazis marched in.  Their work enabled many to escape to the U.S. and gave rise to the establishment of the Unitarian Service Committee, still in existence today as the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.  The Sharp’s barely escaped arrest and detention.  They returned to Europe in 1940, where Martha Sharp arranged for 29 children and 10 adults to leave Nazi-occupied Europe.   The Sharp’s work combined with the founding of the Unitarian Service Committee ensured the rescue of 3500 families from Nazi controlled Europe.[7] The Sharp’s became known as the ‘Guardian Angels of European children.’

“Martha Sharp was said to have asked her daughter-in-law, ‘What important work are you going to do for the world?’ This is a statement of strong conviction that with our lives intricately connected to the world around us we carry a responsibility to that connection.”[8]

What important work are you going to do for the world?  It may seem impossible for us to prevent the atrocities in another country say Uganda, where legislation is proposed to eliminate the HIV/AIDS and homosexual threat by executing those who are living with this disease or who are homosexual in orientation.

Will this legislation if enacted result in Genocide?  First we need to understand the definition of Genocide.  It is important to know because many deny genocide based on a misunderstanding of what constitutes genocide.   According to international law: genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The phrase “in whole or in part” is where many people trip up.  Genocide does not need to be the whole population; it can be a part of the population that is being harmed.  While sexual orientation or disease is not stated explicitly in the definition; the rest of the definition would classify such action as genocide.

There are distinct stages that a country progresses through en-route to committing genocide.  The first two stages are common to our human nature.  There are examples here in the United States and it does not mean that genocide will occur.  But it is clear from all the holocausts this world has experienced in the last 100 years, every single one, Armenia, Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Darfur all began with these two stages that escalated to the third stage.

First stage:  Classification.  What divides us from them?  Is it race? Ethnicity? Religion? Nationality?  Sexual orientation?  There is a preventative in the form of education of tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.  The President of Genocide Watch, George Stanton states, “Th[e] search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.”  Part of the important work that we can do for the world is to educate others about who the other is.  The other is just like us in more ways than we may even currently acknowledge. It is vital that we speak up when we hear hate speech or derogatory statements that dehumanize the other.

Stage two: Symbolization.  These are names or other symbols we give to those we classified as other.   From our own history, this would be the derogatory terms used to describe people of color or sexual minorities or political conservatives or political progressives.

These first two stages are not necessarily going to result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage; dehumanization.   Hate speech and hate symbols can increase the likelihood of advancing to the next stage.  The key is to remove the power behind the symbolization.  The act of setting up a donation table to solicit funds for organizations that support HIV/AIDS treatment or Gay civil rights where ever Fred Phelps’ church calls for the death of homosexuals is one way of removing the power his symbols might carry.

Stage 3: Dehumanization.  The humanity of the other is denied by equating them to vermin, animals, and diseases.  We have heard this dehumanization increasing in our country in the past few years.  Television talk show hosts have been accused of hate speech that dehumanizes or degrades the opposing political opinion.   Words such as “being the cancer of America” and to reload and take aim at those politicians who have supported allegedly the wrong bill have been heard.  This is dehumanization.    These are hate speeches aimed at dehumanizing the other.   Genocide Watch suggests “Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.”

Stage four: Organization.  There is always organization behind genocide.  It is usually supported by the government where the genocide is taking place but organized through militias so the government can deny responsibility. This is the case in Darfur.

Stage five: Polarization.  Hate propaganda is broadcasted informing this is for the best interests of the country, further polarizing those who might act to stop it. Laws are passed outlawing behaviors associated with group, such as gathering for worship on Friday evenings for Sabbath.  Laws forbidding social interaction may also be passed. It became illegal in Germany to shop at a store owned by Jews.

Stage six: Preparation:  Groups are separated out from the general population.  They are forced into ghettos, concentration camps or regions with no or limited resources for survival.  Our own history revealed this being done to the Native Americans who were forced off their land and into desert regions we called reservations.  Symbols are also used to designate these people and these are forced on the people.   In Germany it was the yellow star or various colors of triangles.  In Cambodia it was a blue scarf.

Stage seven: Extermination.  Mass killings begin and this is called genocide.  Those doing the killing do not believe their targets are human.  Rapid international armed intervention must be given in order to stop the genocide.  Safe zones that are protected by international forces must be developed for refugees.  Unsafe, safe zones are worse than no safe zones because they become targets as was the case in Darfur, where the international armed forces abandoned the safe zones allowing for Janjaweed, an African Arab tribal militia, to enter and massacre the refugees.

Stage eight: Denial.  Actions are taken by the government to deny the genocide took place.  Obstructions to investigations occur.  A label of civil war may be used to cover up the genocide, such as in Darfur and Bosnia. It is important that an international council is set up to investigate and bring the proponents of genocide to justice.[9]

Survivor of the Bosnian genocide, Kemal Pervanic, stated at the first annual Holocaust Memorial Day conference in the United Kingdom: “Most Bosnians learned to regard all Serbs as murderers, killers: they believed something was wrong with them. I don’t think like that.  It’s OK to be different. We are all different, but on the other hand we are all the same, with the same rights to life, love, dignity. Lots of people aren’t prepared to share these values with others who are less fortunate than them.”[10]

Through out the eight stages of genocide there is a drive to destroy, to drive out, to reduce to sameness, to kill the human spirit that creates us as all unique.  Yet, as these few stories point out and in every story of survival of genocide I have ever heard, the human spirit has never been able to be fully crushed.  There is always some spark, some insignificant moment or choice made that restores a sense of dignity, of integrity, even if for that one brief moment that beckons the will to live another day. There is always a creative way for the human spirit to seemingly instinctively change course as Rena and Danka did with mysterious surging bravado, or to be a chameleon in the midst of enemies in order to survive like Solomon Perel did or causes Waitstill and Martha Sharp to reach out a hand to save a few from falling into harm’s way.   The human spirit cannot be fully crushed.  It can be repressed.  It can be oppressed. It can be held down and shackled.  But its spark can never be fully snuffed out. There will always be something of the human spirit that will declare its existence, its shout of I AM.

Anne Frank who lost her life in the Holocaust wrote in her diary “… in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” [11]

May it be so in our life times.

[1] Rena’s Promise by Rena Kornreich Gelissen with Heather Dune Macadam.   Page 60

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart  © The Free Press 1960  pg 148

[4] http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/33d/projects/jewishlife/JewishPerelRuth.htm

[5] ibid

[6] Roots and Visions: The First 50 years of the UU Service Committee, page 15

[7] http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/storydetail.cfm?ID=2628

[8] Originally from the sermon, “How to be A Hero” by Rev. Fred L Hammond  © February 26 2006

[9] As found at http://www.genocidewatch.org/aboutgenocide/8stagesofgenocide.html © 1998 Gregory H. Stanton. Originally presented as a briefing paper at the US State Department in 1996.   (The eight stages presented here is adapted from this work of Gregory Stanton.  The comparisons of some of the stages to the political scene,  past and present,  in the US is my commentary and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of  Genocide Watch.

[10] As found at http://www.hmd.org.uk/news/item/holocaust-memorial-day-trust-1st-annual-conference

[11] as found at http://www.buzzle.com/articles/holocaust-quotes.html

Published in: on April 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm  Comments Off on Yom HaSho’ah  
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