Today in Israel, a solemn ceremony will occur as sirens sound and every one will stop what they doing for a moment of silence. Drivers on highways will pull over, get out of their cars and stand quietly in remembrance of the 6 million Jews whose lives were extinguished in the Holocaust.
In an overflowing sanctuary members of many faith communities joined Congregation Sons of Abraham in our Holocaust commemoration. Standing with Rabbi Prombaum, 6 representatives from the Jewish community lit memorial candles to begin the evening.
Bob and Maureen Freedland, this year’s recipients of the Greg Wegner Holocaust Educator Award in addition to years of helping our local public and private schools have Holocaust education through their Foundation, also brought Michael Luick-Thrams, an historian/urban social worker/teacher/writer to La Crosse to share a special Holocaust program. A program with 2 main components of remembrance, recounted from his books, Out of Hitler’s Reach and Traces when 185 European Jewish refugees were giving a safe haven at a Quaker communal farm, Scattergood in West Branch, Iowa.
At Scattergood refugees adjusted to American life while working side by side with Quakers in the wheat belt where human kindness, healthcare and language classes were given. Their average stay was 4 months during which the children’s experience was so monumental many of the 23 children eventually became teachers, Psychologists and Psychiatrists. “Goodness in a time of hatred.”
Yet, “the stories we choose to tell, as they are the ones we want to believe,” states Dr. Luick-Thrams.
The second part of the story Traces sadly recounts tales of how our State Department purposely lost application files (Paper Walls) changing people’s lives forever by sending refugees either back to their motherland/separating / destroying families. Sound familiar?
Luick-Thrams referred to the Banality of ‘Virtue’ vs ‘Evil’ where every day acts of being human can be both good and bad with extreme implications. ie: One’s daily work may be to extinguish Jews, only to return home the same day to go on a picnic/ to the zoo with one’s family/ European Jewish refugees segregating themselves in an hierarchal manner by nationalities/ Jews telling new arrivals here on a train not to get off at certain stops but to continue on to the Dakotas where there is more room. (In fact, that’s how Jewish communities ended up in places like Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, really the first Kibbutz)/ Scattergood sheltering Jews but unwilling to hire one as staff/ when Scattergood wanted to house Americans of Japanese descent, the townspeople vehemently opposing and the very same hostel who sheltered refugees for 4 years ended up closed.
Dr. Luick- Thrams stressed sometimes we aren’t ready to tell/hear the story but “all people are full of contradictions.”
After the program Dr Luick-Thrams shared his books recounting these and many other accounts of refugees during the war years.
Let us remember by continuing to tell the stories with both parts, the good and the bad.