We must remember.
There were so many heroes.
Julian Bilecki was a teenager from a family of poor farmers who risked their lives hiding innocent people from the Nazis in underground shelters on their farm. To avoid tell tale tracks in the snow, Julian climbed trees and jumped from one tree to the next as he made his way to the shelters with food and supplies. Decades later, this brave man flew on an airplane for the first time to meet some of the people who survived because of his fearless generosity. He remarked that he just wanted to help. He didn’t consider his extreme bravery special.
“It is very pleasant that people remember me. I am being paid back by God.”-Julian Bilecki
Albert Goering, the brother of the notorious Nazi killer, Hermann Goering, used his family ties for good instead of evil. He donated large amounts of money to the resistance movement and used his position as an export director at a weapons manufacturing plant to allow workers to steal guns that were used to fight the Nazis. He helped many refugees set up Swiss bank accounts and obtain exit visas to escape the country. In a brave show of support for the Jewish people, Albert got down on his knees and scrubbed the sidewalk alongside women who were ordered to engage in the humiliating labor by the Nazis.
Albert was never rewarded for his efforts. The pernicious legacy of the Goering name haunted him until he died in 1966.
Irena Sendler, who was hired by the Nazis to stop the spread of typhus in the Warsaw Ghetto, saved countless children by smuggling them out in any way possible. She came up with the ingenious idea to hide children in caskets, or under blankets, as they carried the dead and sick out of the ghetto in cars and ambulances. Bravely attempting to keep her impossible promises to the parents, Irene carefully recorded the new and the old identities of all her rescued children and buried the information in jars. After the war, Irene dug up the jars with 2500 names and attempted to reunite the children with their parents, but most of the families were gone.
“Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.”- Irena Sendler
Captain Witold Pilecki, a non-Jewish Pole, volunteered to be captured and sent to the death camps so that the world might wake up and stop this atrocity.
You read that right. He volunteered for Auschwitz, and he’s not the only one.
I want to remember every miracle inside of those death camps. How many parents did their best to protect their children? How many men gave their last bit of bread to a fellow inmate? How many children stood up for their siblings? How many mothers helped each other through unimaginable grief? How many people were brave enough to cry? How many people reassured their fellow inmates as they marched to the gas chambers? How many people stood up on a train, so a sick passenger could lie down?
People jammed love and faith right through the brick wall of that genocide.
We really can dive into the murky pits of despair and find hope.
Love never, ever disappears.
I’m blinded by a bright light on a loud locomotive at an ugly, cold train stop in Chicago.
I think about the sights and sounds of those trains. I think about the people crowded into the cars like cattle.
“I see you,” I say quietly, watching two winter trees pretty up the grey sky.
“You are beautiful. I see you.”
People do rise up.
I must remember.