Tuesday, March 05, 2013

what you will remember is not the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends*

After class was over yesterday one of my students sat crying at her desk. When I walked over she handed me her phone and said, "Can you read this?". So I read.

What she wanted me to read was a message from a friend of hers who is studying abroad in Eastern Europe right now. The friend had taken a trip with some other friends to see one of the Nazi concentration camps in Poland. And at that site, the very spot where thousands of people were murdered, the young Americans had played. They had enacting killings. For example, they had pretended to cut each others' throats.

American juniors (third year students at four year universities) are 20-21 years old. Current juniors were born around 1992.

My student is Jewish. And, according to her friend, so were some of the young Americans playing at the concentration camp.

It took 70 years, but we let it happen. We let it happen that they didn't learn.

*quote by dr King, as I remember it

1 comment:

Katie H said...

Goodness, I feel her pain.
There's a great film, dutch, called De Tweeling (the twins, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0322674), which I watched when living in Colorado. My roommates came home and couldn't understand why I was sobbing, why it moved me so much. As a European, the war has always been closer to me. I grew up with people who's grandparents escaped, or helped others to, or were quiet about what happened and what they'd done.

When I lived in the US, people were very blaze about the war. The only thing they knew about it was that "the US made sure the french aren't speaking german right now", as they'd proudly proclaimed in a bar in France. In one fell swoop, they'd diminished the sacrifices and years of war the french had bravely fought, the losses and deaths, to that the country was just a big sloppy mess that couldn't fend for itself. American kids, playing the power card, ripping up wounds that their schools never told them existed.

Of course, we all deal with death and unfathomable sadness in different ways. I've got a really morbid sense of humor myself, but I reserve it for times when I'm not literally treading on people's graves, and not when the sorrow is so fully somebody else's.

I find American tourists overpoweringly difficult to endure, due to the two things that would unerringly be my answer when people asked what I thought the main differences were between my two countries. The Great American Ignorance, and The Great American Arrogance. They don't know and they don't care. Because the education system and prevalent culture (of course, there are pockets of counter culture where this does not apply) has created a mainstream so egocentric that they actually can't fathom the idea of employing empathy for other people. Listen to the news. No American lives lost... because in the United States, those are the only thing that counts.

I love America, and much of what it stands for. But the ignorance, arrogance, and willful disdain of the history and present day of the rest of the world saddens me deeply.

Please let your student know that those kids will probably feel bad about what they did later on. And perhaps their guilt will lead them to do great things for others, in the future.