Monday, March 19, 2007

My nightmare was someone's reality

I've always been intrigued with history, particularly American History. And I'm not sure why, probably because it affected a generation that is still alive to talk about it, but WWII is absolutely fascinating to me.

I've often wondered what the world would be like today if the Germans had won. Or what the global population would be if the war hadn't ended all those lives. Not to mention the obliteration of the majority of Poland's Jewish population.

Strangely enough, I didn't really start getting into it until after college graduation. In fact, I can remember the exact moment I started taking time to learn about it on my own. It was one of my first assignments as a reporter, and I had to interview veterans for a Veterans Day story. Instead of focusing on any one person in particular, I opted to sit around at the local VFW for an afternoon, listening in on people's conversations and asking the men questions about the things they experienced.

It was an eye-opening afternoon. Some jumped at the change to regale a new audience with their old stories. Others refused to even talk about it, the pain still visible in their eyes.

I left realizing that I hadn't ever asked my own grandfathers about their experience at war and it shamed me. Because neither are around anymore to talk about it.

There are snippets of conversations that I remember. I know my dad's dad was on the front lines, but I don't even know what combat group he was with. And I vaguely remember him telling me that his entire platoon died when their tank rolled over. I guess my grandpa had gotten an assignment transfer just days earlier. My mom's dad was a reporter. I'm not exactly sure to what capacity, but I'm pretty sure he was embedded. My brother got his war trunk and all his memorabilia when he died -- to which I was insanely jealous.

Ever since that afternoon at the VFW, I've paid closer attention to our war veterans. Part of my job includes proofing my paper's obituaries, and it always saddens me to see another WWII vet gone, taking a major part of our history with them.

So when Jerry and I were walking through our local video rental store recently, checking out the new releases and realizing that nothing really jumped out at us, I started going up and down the alphabetical aisles in hopes of spotting an oldie but goodie that I'd always had good intentions of seeing.

Then I found "Schlinder's List." Jerry hadn't seen it either, so we rented it.

It took a few days to get around to watching it, which wasn't a problem because we had it for a week, but now it haunts me. Every time I become emotionally involved in a real-life story like that, it seems to take a few days to recover. I dream about what it must've been like to live in a concentration camp, never knowing if tomorrow will be your last day. To be persecuted solely because of your beliefs. Beliefs you were born into.

One line in the movie stood out in particular. The title character Oskar Shindler says, "War brings out the very worst in people, never the best."

Even if that is the case, I absolutely can't comprehend how that many people were convinced that the Jewish people were an inferior population. That they were somehow less than human and that killing them was not only acceptable, but the right thing to do.

I guess at the core, people are weak. All it takes is a strong leader to give them a goal and a purpose. Even if that purpose is pure evil.

And real stories like that, stories of survival despite the worst kind of adversity ... well, stories like that humble me.

Thinking about all of this woke me up for the second night in a row. Maybe now that I've gotten it out I'll be able to sleep.

31 comments:

jsi said...

That movie still haunts me, the book even more. I don't reach for novels to keep my imagination occupied, its the hisotry biography for me. Schindler's List, a strong choice. The music in the movie, John Williams, reaches through and grabs my soul and still hasn't let it go yet and it has been a decade.
What a dramatic story about the power of one life whop valued the power of another person's life.
"The truth is always the right answer."
A deep posting tonight.

Anonymous said...

My teacher showed one scene from that movie when I was in 8th grade. I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the rest of it since. That one scene had such a powerful effect on me as middle schooler.

Julie said...

When I saw that movie, I just sobbed and sobbed at the end of it. Same thing with "The Passion of the Christ". To know that we as a species can turn on one of our own, or a group of other people, just horrifies me.

Man is the only species that will hunt and kill another member of his species either for sport or for the abiliity to "be right" about some idea.

Anonymous said...

I do alot of research with geneology. It helps me feel in touch with my ancestors and makes the history they were involved with feel real. Maybe if you research your grandfathers' war history you wouldnt feel so bad.

Ashley

Erin said...

Kelly: If you want another emotional take on the concentration camps, check out "Life is Beautiful." It's a story about a father and a son who were shipped to a concentration camp and the father tries to hide the seriousness of the situation by convincing him it's a "game." Sad and funny and ultimately more moving than Schindler's List.

Jennifer said...

I feel a similar sense of shame about not talking to my grandpas about what it was like for them to be in the war, and like you, they are also gone from my life. Its unfortunate we don't realize those types of things at a younger age.

As far as those types of movies.... wow do I feel you. I actually steer away from them now unless I know I can spend a week depressed. I'm telling you, it took me days to get over feeling bad about the movie titanic even!! All those people locked down below the boat.... ugh. I can't even imagine the depression that would follow me around if I watched schindler's list!

Deacon Tom said...

Hi, took me a while to find your new location, found your old Xanga site, which led me to here. I hope you and Jerry are well, hope we can keep in touch again, God bless. +

jittersis said...

Hi Kelly, Below is a link to a sight you might like. This project was done by a very small middle school in Whitwell TN. I think it one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen. I have watched the movie and I did buy the book. I hope you like it.
http://www.marionschools.org/holocaust/

Lauren said...

That movie is on my shelf. That book is also on my shelf. I've only seen the movie once and I couldn't finish the book... It's too much, too powerful. Like you, I've always been interested in history and WWII is the one war that I've basically chosen to learn as much about as I possibly can. I've read all the feel-good books about the kindertransport and I've also read all the not-so-feel good books about being in concetration camps. Memoirs, memoirs, memoirs. And even if I've read almost an identical line or story before, it still gets me. It still makes me hurt, physically and emotionally. I can't imagine anything being so deep that you didn't even have to be there to feel how hurtful.. and I certainly can't imagine having had to be there.

Lauren said...

Oh, btw, have you been to the Holocaust museum in DC? I know you're central PA, but, it's still fairly close. It's definitely worth a visit. The silence is deafening.

www.xanga.com/nothingbeast said...

I'm on the fringe of joining a biker gang that does a lot of work with veterans.

Last Fall, I helped serve food to a lot of young men who were either injured, or just passing through on their way to active duty.

They were so appreciative, even though it was we who were there to thank them.

Amy said...

That film and Saving Private Ryan amaze me
because according the the veterans
that are still alive they really show
what it was like which is fascinating
and yet horrific.

When I was younger and took History
my school took us to belgium to look
at some of the war grounds, we saw
original trenches, photo's of soldiers, not posed but at the most
horrible times such as just as they
fell after being shot.

We also saw the graves.
There were so many I couldn't see where they ended and we were told
that if we walked to the end it would
be dark and we'd have to head right back
so we could only stand and pay tribute there.
Everyone cried, it was so intense there that a woman even fainted.

I'll never get the images I saw there
out of my head but I would not
give away my memories of it for the
world.

spencerella said...

Hi, i've been keeping up with your site for a while, all the way back when you were still on xanga. Ive never left a comment (which is odd, but i hope you dont think that im a weird internet-obsesses stalker, because im not- PROMISE). But today I just felt obliged for some reason to finally leave one. I know youve recieved countless fanmail and as much as I'd hate to fall into the bunch and be labeled as a "novelle groupie" I must really say that i beyond love your site. I am an aspiring journalist who loves writing, and as much as I want to blog ritually like you do, I inhibit myself because I'm under the impression that only those with (seemingly) interesting lives are worth having a site, and my life is no soap opera.
I feel like i know you so well, just based off your writing, and coincidentally it seems like we have a lot in common. I often find myself thinking "me too!" when i read about certain emotions you have, or literally laughing out loud when you tell another story about Jerry. Ive even been considering getting a ferret and happened to read some of your older posts and realized you had one too!
I hope this comment/publicized email flatters you and doesnt freak you out. I really want you to know how much youve inspired me to just suck it up and start writing again; as a 3rd yr college student, its hard to keep up writing when youre bogged down with so many other things, including classes you know you'll never need (early centuries latin american history *cough* cough*)
did i mention i have a tendency to ramble? haha. anyway- thank you.

Anonymous said...

we were shown that movie in high school as freshmen. i am very thankful for that because it showed me at a very young age the hardships, strengths and weaknesses of our past and made me look at my own life. it is easy for a freshmen in high school to take life for granted...after that movie i realized i had more than i could ask for..a family, a home, a school, the right to be who i was. but more than it showed me how strong those people were, i looked up to them. even in the hardest of times they had hope, strength, love and faith in the darkest hours.
-dominique

Marina said...

I'm pretty sure they were after people who were Jewish by nationality, not by religion. It's not that they were prosecuted for their beliefs, but just for being born into a certain nationality. As far as I know, anyway. I could be wrong.

the pensive plainsman said...

The next time when we come across an unflexible corporate or govt. bureaucrat, a store clerk or traffic cop who is "only doing their job," it all becomes a bit easier to understand and more frightening, too.

Yet with our increased loss of privacy, technological tracking, and micro-management lawsuits, the factor of human discretion, i.e. humanity itself, is vanishing hourly.

Although the inhumanity of singling out a single population for their beliefs is scary enough, the fact that almost an equal number of Polish Christians were also eliminated, and they did not differ in even religion and appearance from those conducting the genocide. Their fair haired babies were adopted out as "Aryan."

And besides the infirm and challenged, the very first to go before the rest were the teachers and university professors.....

Bethany said...

As a student of the Holocaust, it's important to not just get sucked in by its emotion. I agree that Schindler's List is a powerful film, but it's not the whole story. The German people weren't necessarily weak, mindless fools waiting for a powerful leader to come along; they were surviving the Great Depression while paying millions in reparations from World War I. They were turned by a powerful leader, but if you hadn't been able to feed your children for weeks and someone offered you a job, wouldn't you take it? I definitely encourage you to look into it further and examine the topic past the emotion!

Maria said...

That movie is one of my favorites, my mom and I used to watch it when I was a kid and it always made me cry.

'The Pianist' is another good movie in the same category and deff worth watching if you haven't seen it yet.

Randall said...

I actually haven't seen the movie yet but my mom used to talk about the girl in the red jacket (is that right?). Since my father died I have an extremely hard time watching movies about a parent dying (like American Beauty when Kevin Spacey has the flash back when he dies) and husband or wife dying. I can't get through 15 minutes of "What Dreams May Come." There will always be things that touch us like that.

chelsea said...

i feel the same way. i saw Schindler's list last year (as a sophmore in hs) and i honestly couldn't watch some of the parts. its hard not to cry, and then hear immature students make jokes about something so scary and so real. i'm also interested in WWII. school's spend too much time teaching us about world history pre america and not enough time on what has affected us recently.

Wendy said...

If you are ever in D.C., their Holocaust Museum focuses on how the Holocaust came about. I found if very interesting. And it shined a glimmer of light onto the why. Although, I will always struggle with the idea that people were so easily swayed by Hitler's convoluted beliefs.

The Holocaust Museum is doing something that I find to be quite amazing. They are collecting 1.5 million hand-made butterflies to represent each child lost to the Holocaust, and will something to exhibit the butterflies. Consider contributing your own. I am in the process of creating something. I struggle with it because I think it's got to be really special. Here's the site:
http://www.hmh.org/minisite/butterfly/index.html

Wendy said...

Erin is correct. Life is Beautiful is a great movie. It makes me cry every time I watch it, but it's great.

Emilee said...

I was shown scenes from that movie when I was a freshman in high school and I had to excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom. Now I can't bring myself to watch the rest.

I know that my grandfather flew
B-52 bombers in the Vietnam War war and was drafted and served 3 weeks in WWII...but he never talks about it anymore. He always says, "It hurts my soul too much to let my head think about it."

And we recently had a discussion about the Holocaust in English, about whether Hitler's followers really thought what they were doing was right, or whether they had a choice.

Many people felt very strongly that they were under some sort of "trance" or they were brain-washed into believing that killing the Jewish people was ultimately, the solution. But others felt that there were so many followers and only one Hilter, they surely could have stopped and not killed all of those people. It can sometimes be a controversial issue.

Ray said...

It's people like that, that put me to shame. People were so incredibly strong back then (I can't imagine what they went through I would NEVER have been STRONG enough to survive what went through). I can't say the same for now. Sadly, when they all die out, what will be left of us? Just spoiled/selfish/self-involved people I guess (And I can't sit here and lie while writing this but I'm the same as well) with no real purpose in life what so ever. Anyway, you stated that you absolutely could not understand how people could prosecute the Jews back then solely on religion and it's because people were blind back then, ignorant, and stupid. In some way it was like a cult, Hitler had everyone in his spell. In his trance. The only way it could have happened is that they were brainwashed, what other way could have it been but that. It can some what be related with racism with the African Americans. To this day people are still racist, whether it be black, Spanish or whatever other race. Sadly nothing's really changed. Not in a big enough way in my opinion. And it gets me so upset and I know this is a mean thing to say but all I can think of was that "People back then were on some serious CRACK!" I mean how could you not like somebody based on race or color?! It's ridiculous and I can't understand it, and I don't want to. To understand it would make it right and it just isn't right. And that's why sometimes I think about adopting. Even though I'm sworn off of kids for now and maybe forever, I think to myself sometimes "Wouldn't it be nice if I could adopt children from different nationalities." I think of it: I'd like an Asian little girl, an African American little boy, an Italian little girl or boy, and a child of my own. That way when they grow up they can grow up together. Knowing that although they are different, it doesn't matter. The differences are special, but what's even more special is them united together. If more people did this the word "Prejudice" would die off completely. It would only be a crude, horrid memory tucked away in the back of our minds. Well sorry for getting carried away, I just ran with it. Good post Kelly.

Take, care.

Ray said...

UGH: I meant race & religion. My bad. ;o)

Emale said...

I've never seen the movie, but it sounds compelling.

grace said...

i think ppl are missing out the fact that it's continuing today. north korea is a great example. how does one person control generations of ppl to believe what's right? if u have the power to instill fear, you can do anything.

ajandmac said...

I think we all miss out on history when we forget to talk with our grandparents, or even our parents.

-My grandma was never fighting in a war, but she can recall the day president Kennedy was shot with great detail. Things like that are so interesting to me.

-My grandpa fought in the Navy and I've listened a few times, but I guess I really haven't ever taken the time to fully hear about his experiences.

Thanks for the challenge.

[ps- Sleeping can be seriously hard when there's a lot on your mind. Good tip to just get it out.]

Anonymous said...

I'm graduating in May with a degree in history, and I have to agree that WWII is absolutely fascinating. In a way, it was the last war with good guys and bad guys. There were evil people that needed to be stopped. After that, everything turned a shade of gray and it was hard to tell who or what we were fighting for.

Joanna said...

Hey Kelly-
I ran across something kind of neat on youtube, and I figured it'd be perfect fit for you since you have your new video camera. There's some youtube member (i only go to watch random videos, never video blogs) named HellaChella who started this video chain- 10 random facts about yourself. Tons of people are posting reply videos to hers. I think a lot of us would absolutely love to see one of you :D

Pretty please? With whipped cream, a cherry, AND chocolate syrup on top?

Evon said...

Yeah, I often wonder that too. If not for wars, how much more populated would this world be?

I am fascinated with WW2 as well, but the more Asian side of it. Europe is fortunate that they found peace. Germany apologised, carried out its reparations and have gone on to teach its young that what they did in the past is wrong.

As for Asia.. if you've read the news, Japan once again refuses to acknowledge history. There is a lot of tension between Japan and the countries it invaded because of that. To deny their young the lesson of war by erasing and denying its atrocities, coupled with its stubborness to apologise, makes one wonder what was the point of the war at all. Is history not meant to be learnt from? What then, did all those deaths do, if no acknowledgement, much less an apology, ever surfaced? To deny it (eg. the rape of nanking) all happened is like saying all those people died for nothing.

And to think the american public nominated 'Letters to iwo jima' for an oscar, and called 'The Departed' an adaptation from a Japanese film during the Oscar voiceover when it was actually done by the Chinese.

Sorry for the long comment, but for historical reasons, the 2 cultures really don't like to be mixed...

Guess your entry opened a can of worms. I apologise.