I have always loved reading. I was an early reader and as a child it was said that I “always had my head in a book.” I have memories of lying under my bedcovers with a torch (American flashlight) reading until late. The habit continued into adulthood (although minus the torch). After everything else is done I pull out my kindle and read a few pages before I drop off to sleep. Unfortunately, it hurts more when a kindle drops on your head than a book!
One of the genres I like to read is biographies. Last week the Kindle “daily deal” was a book advertised as about a man surviving in World War II. (Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. NY, Random House, 2014.)
The title didn’t really grip me but for $1.99 worth it was worth a try. It turns out the man, Louie Zamperini, was a famous runner. Although he is now the subject of two films, I must confess I had never heard of him before.
Last night, I read about his attempt in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. After he had run — he didn’t win a medal but created a new record for the fastest last lap— he met Hitler who shook his hand and commented on his last lap.
It was strange reading this knowing that I was doing so on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The official commemorations take place after sundown when the Jewish Sabbath ends. January 27 was the day the Russian army liberated prisoners from Auschwitz. In 2005, United Nations designated “27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”
Here are a couple of further quotes from the document. I would encourage everyone to read it in full.
“Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”
“Condemns without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur;”
Last night, as I read Louie Zamperini’s story one line caused me to pause and ponder. After his meeting with Hitler he went out on the town. Later that night he decided to steal a Nazi flag which was over a building where he had just watched Hitler enter.
The author wrote, “The banner didn’t yet carry much symbolic meaning for him, or many other Americans, in the summer of ‘36.”
Yet, in the very next paragraph he describes how guards caught him in the action of taking the flag which, ultimately, he was allowed to keep. The comment this time was, “The one thing Louie knew about Nazis was that they were anti-Semitic, so when he gave his name, he delivered it in an exaggerated Italian fashion, rolling the r, . . . for about two minutes.”
So, I paused and reflected. How did these two statements match? How could he say the flag had not got much symbolic meaning and yet know about the anti-Semitism? This was only three years before war broke out.
The book continued with a brief mention of another Olympic athlete, basketball player Frank Lubin. He remained in Berlin for a few days at the invitation of his hosts. He noted many Juden Verboten signs reappearing in restaurants and public places. They hadn’t been present during the games.
With all this buzzing around my head I read the lectionary passage. It is the story of Jesus casting out a demon. It is in the first chapter of the book of Mark (21-28). It is the start of the story, so in some ways sets the scene.
I noted three things that happened that I want to keep hold of. Firstly, a menace, an evil was recognised (23). Secondly, it was rebuked, “Be Silent” (25) and finally, it was rejected, “Come out of him” (25).
In society, in contemporary times, there seems to be a rise in hate. The media is full of stories of hate crimes against those perceived to be different. It is a scourge on present society. According to The Independent:
“In the first three months of 2017, the number of antisemitic incidents in the US was 86 per cent higher than the previous year. In the UK, antisemitic incidents last year hit record levels.”
See also http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-40735634)
It is important that these things are recognized (seen for the evil they are), that they are rebuked (spoken against) and that they are rejected (refusal to have any part in them).
This weekend, as the holocaust and all those who were murdered, are remembered. It is important that the words “never again” are at the forefront of both contemporary society and individual people’s minds.
I’ll close with more words from the United Nations:
“We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history. We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world. And we must do our utmost so that all peoples must enjoy the protections and rights for which the United Nations stands."
(Photo: Seahouses UK, August 2017)