Bearing witness is important. It is one of the highest aspirations of my profession, journalism, to be a fair and neutral witness—but being “fair and neutral” doesn’t mean ignoring the humanity of a story, or treating all “sides” equally.
Take the Holocaust, for example. As speaker Magda Brown told a packed Chapel of Mercy Tuesday night, General Eisenhower at the end of World War II urged his soldiers to take as many photographs of German death camps as possible, lest the world one day fail to bear witness; lest the world deny the reality of the Holocaust.
Sadly, the extermination of Jews by Germany in World War II was neither exclusive nor unique. That is, while the Nazis has special animus for Jews, they targeted other groups for extermination, too. And in the decades since, we have sadly witnessed racial, religious or ethnic atrocities in many places.
It doesn’t take much expertise in history to establish that the Holocaust was a thing, not a fantasy. Whether we choose to face it or not, it happened.
And we can thank some survivors, such as Brown, for continuing to bear witness, for helping us all understand one person’s story of that terrible time and place. She spoke of losing her parents, of the long post-war wait until a 1962 reunion with her brother, of the “old hands” as Auschwitz pointing to the smoking chimneys when the “new hands” asked about their families.
German camps were, in Brown’s words, “Hell on Earth.” And yet, one of the amazing things about Brown is the loss of most of her family, the murder of her parents and aunts and uncles and most people she knew in her community, did not make her bitter.
She has worked with German groups and German people to try to spread the antithesis of the Holocaust—the mutual respect for human beings.
I was moved by Brown’s speech. Clearly, many others were too. I felt lucky to be there, as many had to be turned away. I rang in the MMU Handbell Ensemble, and it was an honor to have a minor place in the night’s events. MMU videotaped the presentation. I hope the recording gets posted—watch for it. It will be worth your time.
As we were packing up after the event, another ringer said he wished that we could force contemporary politicians to view this program. Well, we can’t, and that’s a good thing because we are free to experience what we want to.
Still, I think there is value in bearing witness, and I’m glad I was there to experience Brown showing what that means.