Godliness and Immortality by Harold M. Schulweis
Who are "they" to me
I, a child of Jewish Polish parents
Haunting memories filled with
episodes of contempt for my people.
Who are "they" to me?
Stories of ten decapitated Jewish heads placed upon the SS desk
shrunken heads covered upon which skull caps are derisively displayed
"This is your minyan, Jew".
Who are "they" to me
the silent spectators who dared to deny
what "they" saw or heard.
betrayers of the faith in human decency.
Then I said
that "they", all of them,
meant me and mine no good.
"They" are enemies’
overt and hidden foes.
No allies, no friends among "them".
Then as in a nightmare
out of the evil heart rose
the cry of a sobbing infant.
How could innocence reside in evil?
Then I heard of others, read of others, met others,
Gentiles, Christians, believers, atheists
in every country Nazi tyranny controlled.
Non-Jews, not kith or kin,
but those who danced to a different ritual
Non-Jews from every walk of life
turned themselves into hiding places
turned sewers, stables, attics, basements
Not saints nor supermen nor superwomen
but persons of flesh and bone like yours or mine
who risked security, safety, life itself
to hide the hunted.
While others around them, most around them narrowed their heart
lent their wicked hand to the killers
of the dream or pretended impotence.
These precious few transcended boundaries of faith,
church and society
and leapt into the leprous circle of the condemned.
They are the heroes from the other side,
whose courage broke through walls of indifference.
They are the healers of our disillusionment
who give lie to cynicism.
"They", ordinary men and women
did what they did
because human decency and conscience demanded it.
ask them why, ask them why, ask them why?
They stammer "And what else would you do?"
Their questions hold a mirror to my soul.
Would I let them in
this hunted man,
this pregnant woman,
this trembling family?
Would I unlock the door?
Would I let them in my home
for days or weeks or months or years?
Would I scrounge for food to feed these strangers
when offer of a loaf of bread
means imprisonment and death?
Would I get hold of sleeping pills
to silence the cries of the infant
whose sobs might give away the hiding place?
Would I dispose of their excrement, bury their dead,
turn my home into whispers
lest the informants lurking about
sell hiders and hidden
for a carton of cigarettes, a bottle of vodka?
Would I falsify identity papers,
forge baptismal certificates, visas,
lie to interrogators,
seek out allies in a conspiracy of goodness?
They did and theirs are lessons
that must not be lost to our children:
Know, there are alternatives to passive complicity.
Know, knowledge is not cognitive sport
to hear and see and then feign deafness, blindness,
such knowledge is evil,
a wicked subterfuge for shedding the blood of innocence.
Know that there is goodness
even in hell
Goodness, precious that must
be cultivated to resist evil.
Know that goodness must be
raised from the dust of amnesia,
Know that the good who protected the persecuted
must themselves be protected
by us, the family of the survivors.
We owe the world a double witness
Of those who slaughtered and of those who saved.
Know the darkness, know the light.
Know the evil, know the good.
Remember the moral heroes for the sake of
the generation beyond the Holocaust,
enabling our children to hope again, to trust again,
to mend again the tattered fabric of our lives.
Breathe spirit into smoldering ashes of our cremated past
May the sparks of decency be fanned
to light the candle of many wicks,
to enlighten the future.
Bear witness to goodness
that the heart of our children and our own not fail.
A double witness
for living and unborn generations
Remember the evil
but do not forget the good.
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