How can you write when you can’t think? How can you learn when you’re so overwhelmed you can’t process through the emotion? When you’re so hollow inside that you can’t but sit, paralyzed.
“Father, I don’t want to die”
This quote and several other death notes from the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe broke me as a person. My empathy runs hard and strong in situations such as this, when one of the most basic human connections is invoked, family. This is one of the strongest bonds between humans, everyone has a family, and everyone loves their family. For me, family is the foundation my life is built upon. This makes it impossible for me to separate myself, it is a mirror by which I can only view the murders and the atrocities as if they are happening to my own mother, my own father, my own sister, my own future son, my own future daughter. I typically do everything I can to keep myself together, yet any sort of effort to remain composed failed. I could only feel my heartbeat rapidly pound and my lungs refuse to take in air. My ragged breathing served as a backdrop as I extrapolated the deaths and destruction to the people I hold dear. It was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to a panic attack, and in that moment, it became real to me. I’ve been around the monument above the museum before and I’ve even seen a concentration camp, yet the struggles I encountered at that camp were nothing in the face of this highly personal experience. One of my greatest fears is always not being able to help those I love, and the holocaust is the most stark embodiment of that fear I have ever had to face in the mirror of my mind. While I’ve always known I would go to incredible lengths to protect my family, in the Room of Dimensions in the Museum for the Murdered Jews of Europe I began to grasp just how far those lengths would extend, past just about anything I could imagine.
“I fired constantly at the women, children, and the babies. They would do the same and tenfold worse to my children if I didn’t”
This quote comes from one who participated in the mass shootings as he went home to proudly inform his wife about how he had served that day in protecting his family. While I had still not recovered from the Room of Dimensions and subsequent Room of Families—you can see how I continued having some issues—I was confronted with this quote. It is through this mirror that I believe the words that welcome you to the Museum, “It happened once, therefore it can happen again” when those same devotion that is at the core of who I am as a person was used to justify, explain, and validate mass murder. It terrifies me. You can chalk the commanders’ actions to evil, yet our visit to the Topography of Terror taught us just how widespread the operations were. On the individual level, this mirror allowed me to recognize how ordinary men came to proudly believe they were doing the right thing. The propaganda, scapegoating, and atmosphere channeled the fear for families, their ways of life, and absolutely twisted the noble sense of duty a man feels to those he loves into malevolent, hateful, and horrifying acts on an unimaginable scale. I now realize that the Hitler and Joseph Goebbels didn’t introduce anything new to orchestrate the murder of 9 million people, they simply utilized fundamental traits of humanity, and masculinity in particular, for their own sick devices.
Those elements of humanity remain within us, within me, today. This is why we must face the past, learn it, and truly understand it in all its horrors.
“It happened once, therefore it can happen again.”
I will leave you with the poem that Josh Witkop, a CR alum left me. It lent me strength throughout the day to recover and provided me the mirror by which I could maintain faith in the face of the struggles I encounter in my aspirations to grow as a man even as I am forced to grapple with the terrifying actions I believe elements of masculinity drove.
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”
– Ryal Reddick
P.S. – Shoutout to my team members of Marat, Taylor, Abbey, and Lauren. Y’all are making this so special, elevating the incredible times, and supporting each other in the difficult and I’m learning from you every step of the way. I couldn’t be more thankful Dr. P’s brain brought us together.