Friday, December 4, 2009

Hanna's Suitcase


Well I'm here watching reruns of ABC on Iview. The documentary on Hanna's suitcase, which was sent to a Japanese Holocaust museum, and the way the curator and children in her class chased down Hanna's story from before and during the war so that the exhibit could be about her life, rather than just her death at Auschwitz.

It's a lovely story, but contains the common tragic currents that go along with many Holocaust stories. If you're imaging something along the lines of Schindlers List, or the Diary of Anne Frank you're quite close, although if you've been to a Holocaust Museum (like the one in Glen Eria, or other parts of the world) then you'll have a closer connection to the significance of the simplicity of a suitcase that once belonged to a little girl can evoke...especially if you've been there when a survivor has told their story to you in person. It has broken my heart everytime I've met a survivor.

Suitcases like Hanna's, with names and birthday's written on the outside.
One of the sheds at Auschwitz-Birkenau filled with shoes and clothes from the prisoners.
It's these mountains of shoes that always make me cry, since most of the owners were ushered into gas chambers...and the few that were not shivered in rags when it snowed, starving and slaving in work camps.

Anyway, although this story is tragic, this doco held a surprise for me within it. There was a little old lady who when she heard of the museum opening she decided to volunteer there. She was a survivor of Hiroshima. She'd learnt about the Jewish plight when she'd visited Europe after the war. She felt that unlike her survival of one of the Second World War's horrific tragedies, she ought to volunteer because the Jewish people had no say in the events that led to the death of so many. It was almost as if she was saying that since the Japanese had started the war in the Pacific, that she deserved to have been bombed with nuclear weapons. I am dumbfounded with this thought. What have we done as "winner's" of wars...have we stooped so low as to condemn people, simply because they've not taken a stand against political leaders? That after these wars we've brainwashed the survivors into believing that they deserved everything they got because they were the evil ones? We are the lucky ones; lucky in that we had the good fortune for supplies to reach our troops, generals who've made the right decisions at just the right time. Our politics are no better than theirs, you just have to look at the human rights abuses that go on in our own country, and the state of affairs in regards to treatment of prisoners by our allies fighting in the middle east, and the mental health of our own returned servicemen.

I suppose that it's very easy for us to say that we're ok just because we don't have death camps like the Germans or Japanese...but is it just that we've learnt to hide our abuses a little better since their mistakes? Are the degradation of civil liberties, and constant put downs of anyone that is different from ourselves, and damaging the psyches of whole nations any better than the wholesale slaughter of their people? Have we created mentalities equal to battered wives or slave nations purely because of who won which war? Is that kind of life truly better simply because we've let them live?

I would like to think that the world is moving beyond these suppressive political motivations and moving towards a supportive global community where we are all treated equally, but it seems that with every war we seem to have learnt very little in regards to treating each other with kindness and compassion.

Surely it should be as simple as drawing up a list of rules, with the basis of "Would you like to be treated that way yourself? No? Well then it's not ok to do that to anyone else either."...bring it all right down to a personal level, if everyone understands the rules then they are less likely to break them. During the First World War, there was a spirit of "Live and let live.", where if it wasn't hurting you, then an informal truce would fall, troops could withdraw to safety, or celebrate Christmas, simply to allow someone to live, rather than always being ready to persecute them simply because they were the enemy. "The Enemy" were still seen as humans who were simply caught up in a government's polotics.

Obviously we need to remind ourselves and each other everyday to see everyone we meet as we see ourselves, and treat each other with that same respect.

*deep sigh* I know this is a theme I keep repeating in my blog, but so often I'm reminded of this by little things I see around me. 

Well enough of me ranting, I'll let you  get on with your day...enjoy yourselves :)

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