Friday, May 2, 2008

Kicking off Friday on a thoughtful note

So last night D. and I went to the uptown JCC in New Orleans for the community-wide Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) event.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Mark Wygoda, whose father Hermann lived a remarkable double-life during World War II.

Hermann was a German-born Polish Jew whose entire family was murdered during the early stages of the Holocaust. He witnessed the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, smuggled food into the ghetto, lived in Berlin as a non-Jew (and was able to save Jewish children by smuggling them out of Germany on false papers) and ultimately led the Italian resistance movement from a cave in northwestern Italy under the moniker of "Captain Enrico."

Wygoda was commended and given awards by everyone from the newly-formed UN to the U.S. - in fact, his U.S.-awarded bronze star is what led him to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he started a second family who knew nothing of his heroics until much later in his life. In 1946, he wrote his memories of World War II down while his memory was fresh - and when he was much older he translated them into English.

So revered is he in Italy, his book was recently translated into Italian.

I bought Hermann's memoir, "In the Shadow of the Swastika" last night and it's utterly fascinating.

I highly recommend reading it - it's a phenomenal and real account of an ordinary man acting heroic during one of the most shameful periods in modern human history.

It's important for all of us to remember that the Holocaust was not a Jewish tragedy - it was a failure of humanity. Not only were 6 million people slaughtered purely for being Jews, but homosexuals and those who had mental handicaps were targeted as well.

It could happen again if we're not vigilant. It is happening in Darfur. It happened in the early-to-mid 1990's in the former Yugoslavia. It happened in China during World War II.

Astonishing? Yes. Horrific? Oh, yes.

But as George Santayana said, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

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