April 04, 2004

When God Looked Away

A recap and photos of Prague tomorrow, but first I wanted to talk about a part of the Prague trip that has been on my mind since we went there.


Walking through Prague's Jewish quarter-an area that was decimated during the Hitler's regime for the answer to the "Jewish Question", you see so many young, fresh-faced Jews who are there as part ofa pilgrimage. Happy apple-juiced lips of young tour members sitting on the curb, staring in awe at the oldest Jewish Cemetary in Europe, with their paper souvenir yarmulke's with the word "Terezin" emblazened on it. You half wonder if they have bought more for their family members, with the words "My son went to Terezin, and all I got was this yarmulke".

But once you've been there, you understand why people are striving so hard to remember it.

Never in my whole life and in all the travels I have had, have I been to a place of greater sorrow.

Terezin is actually a large town about 50 km north of Prague, near the border of Germany. A one hour bus ride on a former USSR bus takes you there with grueling slowness, making you wonder if you should lean forward up the hill as the gears scream in agony, and once you arrive in Terezin you can't understand it, but the town is just so damn creepy. It's eerie. You have to walk 10 more minutes to the smaller concentration camp that is part of Terezin, called the Small Fortress. It was oringially built in the late 1700's as a military barracks and has been a part of horror and sadness ever since.

Terezin was devestated by the severe European flooding in 2002, and so every room has a water line up to about the waist, where the Elbe took over the Elge River and forced it to wash out the horrors of the Small Fortress.

The Small Fortress, which held women, children, men, Jews, dissidents, homosexuals, and POWs, made me feel such sadness and anger at a world gone wrong. The rooms were freezing cold and the stench of sewage so raw in the one toilet each room had. At one point, we had to walk through a courtyard under those words, those horrible words....Work Will Set You Free. I passed solitary confinement rooms where I strained to hear the prayers of those in need, the sadness in the walls, but heard nothing but the wind.

Then we walked into the tiny mortuary, and there is such a feeling of plaintive pain. Tiny shrunken ghost fingers claw at our pant legs and beg us for help. But I couldn't help them 60 years ago...and I can't help them now, even though that is all that I want to do.

Next to the mortuary is a tunnel. I stepped into the tunnel and was overwhelmed by the icy breeze that stings my face and arms. Y and I walk through it, and are overwhelmed by the length of the tunnel, and eager for the tiny slits of sunlight that filter through from time to time, yet are unable to penetrate the cold. When we exit the tunnel, it is to the execution grounds. The mass burial mound. The gallows.

We knew that was on the other side of the tunnel.

We wonder if those whose lives were ended here did, when they started their walk through the tunnels.

When you go back to Terezin, there is a museum there, called the Ghetto Museum. We entered it, and it was there that we understood the full horror, the deeper tragedy than just the one of the concentration camp we exited.

The whole town was a holding point for Jews. The whole town. Jewish people rounded up and expected to live in a "self-administration town", which in reality was a camp for Jewish children and elderly. Secured in a perimeter by the SS. And the elders who "ran" it, the rabbis and scholars, had short jurisdiction-more often than not, they were shipped off to Aushwitz. Buchenwald. The end of their lives.

Terezin served as a shipping warehouse of people, shipping off their human cargo on a regular basis to concentration and extermination camps. They regularly sent a cargo of exactly 1,000 people on trains to camps. On average, none of them survived. The Ghetto Museum? A former boys home during the War.

In all, over 8,000 children were in the camp.
Only 247 survived the war.
The rest met their end in camps.

The town actually was used as a big PR scam, perhaps contributing to those who say the Holocaust was a hoax. The Reich ordered that it be dressed up with cafes and sports events for the Red Cross, who came by and saw lots of happy Jewish community members who lived in harmony and self-rule. In order to "clean up" the town, the Reich ordered everyone to look happy, clean their clothes...and shipped 16,004 elderlyand sick Jews to Auchwitz.

Every one of them died there.

The reality is this town had 155,000 people pass through it, and less than a quarter survived. The second time the Reich dressed up the town, no one came, and so those who were part of the puppet show the Reich had ordered were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. At the end of the war, dysentary and typhoid nearly wiped out all that had managed to survive the transports.

Terezin tries to rebuild, families are moving in there, businesses coming in. But the streets are haunted, I think, by the lost and angry sould punished for their faith, their dissent, their sexual orientation, their voices.

To those who say the Holocaust was a hoax...sit down. I have some pictures to show you. Pictures of a town and a concentration camp that was filled with people, the Lambs of God that he forgot to pay attention to for a moment. And in that moment, they were lost forever.

Pictures that, to me, prove that God doesn't exist at all.


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Posted by Everydaystranger at April 4, 2004 07:38 PM | TrackBack

i know i will be shunned down but....

religion is a bliss....

Posted by: magik at April 8, 2004 09:37 PM

I HONESTLY was thinking exactly what Paul said.

So. . .what Paul said.

Hugs to you, you wee babe, you. Heh.

(I'm going to say wee now, too. Thanksalot!)

Posted by: Emma at April 7, 2004 10:43 PM

God gave us 10 rules to live by. Number 6 on the list is "Thou Shall Not Kill". Humans have the choice to follow the commandments or not.

Posted by: Tee at April 7, 2004 05:02 PM

You guys both make excellent points.

I've heard (and presume it to be legend not fact) that a young deserter was brought to Alexander the Great (ATG) after a battle. When asked his name, the boy responded, "Alexander". Incredulous, ATG asked him a 2nd & 3rd time, and the boy responded the same. ATG finally said, "Boy, either change your name or change your ways."

People who attack, kill, and/or hate in the name of Christianity should either stop doing that or stop calling themselves Christians.

Posted by: Solomon at April 7, 2004 01:44 PM

I agree Dane.

And raise the question: In the name of what supreme being did Hitler and Stalin commit their atrocities against humanity? Hitler and gang in particular were enamored with Darwin's and Wallace's theory of evolution which gives license to racial superiority; the Nazis refused to take into account that being civilized negates evolutionary processes.

I would argue that if there is no God than no one has the right to condemn Hitler and gang for doing that which would then be a natural process. They would have every right to discover if their 'superior' race should dominate based on their 'fact' that they are the most fit.

Crusades weren't conducted just against others who didn't believe in the same supreme being; the Fourth Crusade was against the Christian Byzantine Empire. The First Crusade was when Byzantine called for European help when the Seljuk Turks(converted to Sunni Islam along the way) attacked. The Europeans sacked cities on their way and when they took Jerusalem, massacred Muslims and Jews( who have the same supreme being as the Pope). Politicized Christianity namely the Roman Catholic Church did and does horrible things but the ones that do are not followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

Wars did not break the RMC's grip but folk movements starting with the Waldensians who began translating the Bible into illiterate folk's venacular and teaching them to read. And then came the power of Gutenberg's movable type inspired by winemaking presses. The motivation was to speed up the 'civilizing' of homo sapiens by making it possible for everyone to read the Bible for themselves.

Posted by: Roger at April 7, 2004 11:54 AM

I won't go into god's existance or non existance, I will say that its unfortunate the people who claim allegence to a god, whichever god that maybe, often use that as a reason to do the hatefull things they do to other humans. Regardless if you call it a crusade, a fatwa, or one of the many other names applied to killing in the name of religion, the fact is you have to have some pretty jacked up ideas about right and wrong in general, along with a equally jacked interpetation of which ever religion your are subscribing to, to think its ok to kill another human being just becaue they don't believe in the same supreme being as you.

Posted by: Dane at April 7, 2004 07:45 AM

God never *looks away*.He is there with us in the happiness and the sorrow.He helps us to deal with life..the way we make it.
Did he look away when His Son was crucified?..No..he sacrificed Jesus so that we may all have eternal life.Jesus gave up His life for our sin.He died a brutal death with His Father watching.A God who loved us so much he gave us his only Son.He saw the Jews crucify his Son..also a Jew..Yet He still loves us.
God doesnt stop bad things from happening to us,rather He is there with us.Helping us to cope,being there for us to call out to in our time of need.
Im not religious,but I know the existance of God because He is the light in the darkness.

Posted by: butterflies at April 6, 2004 05:37 PM

You might be interested in the play (a typically high-school play but still moving) called "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," which is set in Terezin.

Posted by: elisabeth at April 5, 2004 09:28 PM

I agree with you, God does not exist. If he did people would not do hateful things to each other.

Posted by: plumpernickel at April 5, 2004 08:51 PM

my stepfather lost his entire family, except his mother, to the holocaust. it is a sobering thought that only two people from his family exsist anymore.

the thing i think that something like this says about god (or a higher power), is not that they do not exsist, more to the point that they let man follow the free will that we are instilled with for good or evil. i don't believe that the powers that be micromanage. i think that is a trap that many very religious people fall into, thinking that god (or whatever) has nothing better to do than sit around and micromanage people's lives by inflicting them with cancer or horrible circumstances due to things that they do. the holocaust is a reminder that we are in control of our own lives, and while sure sometimes it seems there are miraculous interventions, i would say 99.999% of the time, you are on your own. so be responsible for yourself and try to do things that make a difference. looking the other way does no one any good. maybe if someone would have NOT look the other way, this would have never happened, and my stepfather would have his family.

Posted by: dani at April 5, 2004 06:46 PM

Whereas music is said to be the speech of the soul, the artwork of your words paints a vivid picture of a real, very terrifying time period. What an incredible gift you have.

Amazing Helen. Thank you.

Posted by: KJB at April 5, 2004 04:45 PM

Best Friend, nice work.

I don't mean to trivialize this point but Solomon's comment reminds me of Eddie Izzard talking about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and other dictators.

Pol Pot kills 1.7 million of his own people "and we're sorta fine with that". Hitler made the mistake of killing the people next door.

"Stupid man. Because after a couple years we're not going to stand for that!"

We are our brother's keeper. We shouldn't blame God for not intervening sooner.

We should blame ourselves.

Posted by: Paul at April 5, 2004 04:08 PM

Wow. I'm speechless. I was moved by your words and haunted by the pictures. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Lisa at April 5, 2004 03:41 PM

Thanks Solomon, I again was in the middle of struggling for words while you set them perfectly in your comment.

It was not just Hitler, the individual. There were nations of people involved and many more nations of people doing nothing. At one time the world was headed toward emulating Hitler because success is always attractive.

But there are Germans we can thank such as Heisenberg who could have made Germany the first nuclear power years in advance of the USA. Also without the conclusion of the American Civil War there would have been no USA but a bunch of weak countries such as West Virginia and East Virginia.

And as mentioned by Best Friend there is Cambodia and Rowanda and now others such as Nigeria and the list goes on and on. Many nations are again defining problems they want to have instead of face reality and stop continuing holocausts. League of Nations, United Nations - same thing.

Elena has an interesting pictorial of Chernobyl.

Posted by: Roger at April 5, 2004 03:37 PM

Best Friend makes a good point that God indeed does allow His children to make their own decisions without intervening or with intervention that we don't notice. People say, "How could God allow that to happen?", but I bet God looks down and says, "How can PEOPLE allow that to happen?" We, just like God, had the power to stop it early on and didn't.

Mankind allowed that to happen every bit as much as God, but you don't disbelieve in mankind or humanity. I think that period should be called "When People Looked Away."

Posted by: Solomon at April 5, 2004 02:29 PM

There's an interesting book I read in high school that made me "feel" the holocost that way as well. It's called "Man's Search for Meaning." by Victor Frankl. A Jewish psychiatrist that survived the concentration camps. The way he described humanity and the need for survival is pure eloquence.

Posted by: Amynah at April 5, 2004 02:04 PM

I feel a need to say something, but words are failing me.

Thank you for sharing.


PS-On a lighter note, can I say how much better I like your hair, now that I've seen another picture?

Posted by: Easy at April 5, 2004 01:21 PM

Great, great stuff as always ...

The saddest thing is that it didn't stop there as Cambodia and Rowanda demonstrated. I doubt there will ever be a museum in Washington to remember the millions who died in those attrocities.

Mankind is a definite fixer-upper opportunity, but we are the ones who have to do the fixing up. It is not the responsibility of the land-lord

As for God, who can say - certainly not me - but if you view him as a parent then at some time you have to let the kids make their own mistakes ...

I had a discussion years ago with some friends about how could this sort of thing happen while I was wading my way through Martin Gilbert's 'The Holocaust' ... One of them saw it on my coffee table and the conversation started ... I still remember to this day the showstopper, Chris a quiet guy who had stayed out of it with me drinking wine while the others polarised on the issue ... During a pause he said "God was at Pearl Harbour ..." the pause extended for clarification ... (I paraphrase now due the passage of years and my wine consumption level at the time) "Look at it this way, God couldn't intervene explicitly Old Testament style for any number of theologically explosive reasons so it pans out like this ... The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour 7th December 1941, and a reluctant US joins the war - without them there would be no non-communist invasion of Europe." But how was god involved "well my history tutor said that it was a miracle they didn't hit the fuel depots on hawaii - if they had done that the US would have been sunk in the pacific ... Talk of saving a few million people here or there is irrelevant in the context of development of humanity - He's in it for the long game, not a quick fix ... which gives me faith that we have a future" ... and with that he drained his glass, picked up coat and left ...

Posted by: Best Friend at April 5, 2004 12:11 PM

The whole question of God during the Shoah (Holocaust) has been one of the major theological debates in Judaism since WW2. Certainly it is impossible to rationalise what happened with any idea of a just God. Personally it's a major issue for me and it is not an easy one to resolve, mostly because there is no answer.

Posted by: Simon at April 5, 2004 07:20 AM

I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and felt some of those things too. They gave us a book with a real person who's lives we were following through the levels of the museum. Very powerful, very intense, and very sad.

My person died in one of the camps.

Posted by: Onyx at April 5, 2004 07:04 AM

wow, sounds like a powerful experience. it was a little hard for me to read. very scary.

Posted by: kat at April 5, 2004 03:57 AM

H -
Beautifully told, so much so it brought back memories of my trip and when I was on a tour of Auchwitz. It too was a sobering experience.
Lets hope that nothing like it happens again.

and welcome back!

Posted by: Les at April 5, 2004 03:06 AM

Thank you for sharing your experience with us, and being so honest about your feelings while you were there. While it may be a terrible thing to see, we as a society need to make sure that it's something that is not forgotten.

I just can't believe there are people who deny what happened.

Posted by: Melissa at April 5, 2004 01:32 AM

My grandmother has a polish friend that escaped Terezin. One of the many Jews that escaped to "neutral" Portugal. Iīm headed for Prague in the summer, me and three other friends. I think itīs safe to say Terezin is out of the program, but not on my account. Thanks for letting me take a peak! On the other hand, I will be asking you about directions to that Lebanese restaurant, if you donīt mind. Miguel.

Posted by: msd at April 4, 2004 10:16 PM

very sobering. I can feel your words.

Posted by: melanie at April 4, 2004 10:12 PM

The anguish you felt during your visit pours out through your writing. Thank you for sharing it.

Posted by: Heather at April 4, 2004 09:35 PM

Amazing stuff Helen, it truely burns into ones heart the phrase "those who forget the past are destined to repeat it"


Posted by: Dane at April 4, 2004 08:56 PM

Helen, I couldn't open the pictures.
I don't think that I could stand a trip there, there is too much anguish embedded in the walls, floors, ceilings, and even the air that moves between them.
God did indeed look away.

Posted by: Donna at April 4, 2004 08:20 PM
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