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Divine Remembrance (the “missing” Wednesday post) January 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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[My apologies for the very late Wednesday post. You can request an audio recording of Wednesday’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“Io non mori’ e non rimasi vivo;
pensa oggimai per te, s’hai fior d’ingegno,
qual io divenni, d’uno e d’altro privo.”

“I did not die, and I was not alive;
think for yourself, if you have any wit,
what I became, deprived of life and death.”

 

– quoted from Dante’s The Divine Comedy – Inferno, Canto 34 (lines 25 – 27), translated by Allen Mandelbaum

 

“I did not die, and yet I lost life’s breath: imagine for yourself what I became, deprived at once of both my life and death.”

 

– A popular, oft quoted, translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy – Inferno, Canto 34 (lines 25 – 27)

 

In November 1301, Florence, Italy was the site of a great political upheaval that destroyed much of the city, established a new government, and resulted in the death or banishment of many of the previous leaders. One of those people exiled from their hometown was Dante Alighieri, who banished on January 27, 1302. Dante had very briefly served as the city’s prior, one of its highest positions, and when the new government – ruled by his political enemies – took over, he was accused of corruption, ordered to pay a fine, and to spend two years in exile. But, the poet didn’t believe he had done anything wrong and, more to the point, his assets had been seized by the new government. So, his sentence was changed to perpetual exile (with the threat of death if he returned without paying the fine.)

Thus began the poet’s bitter wandering. He was in his mid-30’s; and while he would participate in several failed attempts to retake Florence, much of the remaining 20-odd years of his life would be devoted to writing The Divine Comedy, a long narrative poem divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In the poem, the poet (and his soul) literally travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven (or Paradise) – and metaphorically travel towards God. He is initially guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil, who represents “human reason;” but it is Beatrice, who symbolizes divine knowledge/love and who first appeared as the object of the poet’s great love in his “little book” La Vita Nuova (The New Life), who guides him from the end of Purgatorio into Paradiso. The poem reflects Dante’s medieval Roman Catholic beliefs and draws strongly from the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the great saints he meets in Paradise.

Article 1. Whether the soul was made or was of God’s substance?

Objection 1. It would seem that the soul was not made, but was God’s substance. For it is written (Genesis 2:7): ‘God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man was made a living soul.’ But he who breathes sends forth something of himself. Therefore the soul, whereby man lives, is of the Divine substance.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (1a Qq. 90, volume 13) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

Even when we have different theological and/or philosophical beliefs, we can agree that breathing is a sign of life, of being alive. However, there are medical situations where someone is breathing and there are no other signs of life. Then there are medical and existential situations where someone is alive, but not living. This latter can be very subjective. Yet, I would argue that there are situations under which almost everyone can categorically agree that it would be really hard to truly live (and feel alive). Those same situations are the ones where it would be hard to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out.

I think, perhaps, Dante felt that feeling (of being alive, but not living) to a certain degree when he was exiled from his home and had almost everything familiar to him stripped away. However, Dante could still roam, and to a certain degree freely. He lived out his life in relative comfort and he was still free to worship according to his beliefs. He was not persecuted for his beliefs (only, for his politics) nor was he tortured because of his gender, ethnicity, height and appearance, or simply because he had a sibling born on the same day. He could write what he wanted to write and received recognition for his efforts. Furthermore, with the exception of what would happen if he returned to Florence, he did not have to fear being killed for his beliefs – or any of his personal attributes. He may have felt, metaphorically, as if he was “deprived of life and death,” but he still had some control over his life and his ability to live it. On the flip side, the millions of people rounded up, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed during the Holocaust, spent many of their days in a reality much like the first part of Dante’s poem: they were deprived of life.

“‘I [will never forget ‘the very bad things’….] I was there and had to see this with my own eyes,’ he said. ‘My mother and my father, and my 7-year-old brother, were murdered in another camp in Treblinka, which is not far from Warsaw.’”

 

– Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a 95-year old Holocaust survivor and lifelong rights activist, telling his story in “Auschwitz survivor reflects on Holocaust Remembrance Day” by Jessica A. Botelho (for NBC 10 News, WJAR, 1/27/2021)

The persecution during the Holocaust started with social and physical segregation; it escalated into government-sanctioned destruction of property; and eventually progressed to the establishment of concentration camps across German-occupied Europe. Millions fled their homes. Millions more would be held captive and tortured. An estimated two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population was murdered while the world stood by, in some cases in disbelief. In addition to the approximately 6 million Jewish people who died, the Holocaust claimed the lives of an estimated 5 million Slavs, 3 million ethnic Poles, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 members of the LGBTQIA+ community (mostly identified as gay men). This horrifically tragic destruction of society and community during the Holocaust was not, cannot be, over-dramatized. It also should not be forgotten.

In November 2005, the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 designated January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In addition to establishing a day of remembrance and calling for an outreach program, the UN’s resolution also “urges Member States to develop educational programmes… in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide…; rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part; and condemns without reservation all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur.” The original resolution is reinforced by UN resolution 61/255 (issued in January 2007), which reaffirmed the General Assembly and Member States’ strong condemnation of Holocaust denial and noted “that all people and States have a vital stake in a world free of genocide.”

January 27th was chosen as a day of remembrance as it was the Saturday, in 1945, when Auschwitz-Birkenau (the largest Nazi concentration and death camp complex) was liberated by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. The liberators found approximately 7,500 survivors – not realizing at the time that these “survivors” had been designated as too sick or weak to be transported (i.e., marched) to another site as the Allies were closing in on the Nazis. The Red Army also did not initially realize that the camp complex had held at least 1.3 million prisoners, most of whom had been or would be killed before the other camps were liberated in April and May of 1945.

“For in my tradition, as a Jew, I believe that whatever we receive we must share. When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways, disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.”

 

“What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.

 

After all, God is God, because He remembers.”

 

 

– quoted from an April 7, 2008 All Things Considered: “This I Believe” essay by Elie Wiesel

 

Elie Wiesel was one of the most famous survivors of the Holocaust. He was a teenager when he and his family were sent to the concentration camps. His parents (Sarah Feig and Shlomo Wiesel) and his sister Tzipora would not survive the camps. He was reunited with his older two sisters (Beatrice and Hilda) at a French orphanage. For 10 years, Professor Wiesel went about the business of living his life – but he did not speak or write about his experience during the Holocaust. He did not speak or write about his younger sister or about how his father guided him with reason and his mother guided him with faith. He did not speak or write about the guilt and shame of being helpless or about how (and why) he maintained the will to survive. Then he began to write and speak and advocate for change. He advocated not only for Jewish rights and causes, but also for non-Jewish people oppressed in places like South Africa, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Sudan, and Armenia. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and he received a plethora of awards from around the world, including the United States’ 1986 Medal of Liberty and the 1992 Presidential of Freedom.

 

Anne Frank was born less than a year after Elie Wiesel and would spend much of Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands in hiding. A mere five months before the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated Anne’s family and friends were discovered and sent to the concentration camps. She was 15 years old, basically the same age Elie Wisel had been when his family was rounded up. Anne; her mother Edith; her sister Margot; their friends Hermann and Auguste van Pels; and Fritz Pfeffer, the final person to hid in the Annex, all died in the camps or while being transported between the camps towards the end of the war. Anne’s friend, Peter van Pels, died 5 days after the camp he was in was liberated by the Americans. Peter’s parents (Hermann and Auguste), and Fritz Pfeffer all died in the camps.

 

Otto Frank was the only person hiding in the Annex who survived the camps. He was one of those designated as “too sick” or “too weak” to be transported and therefore was at Auschwitz-Birkenau when the camp complex was liberated on Saturday, January 27, 1945. He would soon discover that his family and friends had not survived. However, a piece of Anne and the family’s history had survived.

Miep Gies, his former secretary and one of the six Annex “helpers,” had held onto Anne’s journals. Those journals, which Anne called “Kitty,” were full of the day-to-day minutia of their lives in hiding; Anne’s thoughts about the state of the world, her feelings about her family and the others in hiding; details about her first kiss and budding romance with Peter; her personal ambitions and desires; and her passions. She wrote about the things that gave her hope: a tree, a patch of blue sky, fresh air, and music.

In fact, on more than one occasion, Anne Frank wrote about being inspired by music. She wrote about receiving a biography of the composer Franz Listz and about listening to “a beautiful Mozart concert on the radio” with Peter. It is presented as a date, a little living in the middle of hiding. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born January 27, 1756, might have especially appreciated that she wrote, “I especially enjoyed the ‘Kleine Nachtmusik.’ I can hardly bear to listen in the kitchen, since beautiful music stirs me to the very depths of my soul.”

“…music, in even the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but always remain a source of pleasure.”

 

– quoted from a letter (dated September 26, 1781) from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father, as printed in W. A. Mozart by Hermann Abert (Editor: Professor Cliff Eisen and Translator: Stewart Spencer)

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

 

“I first learned about the horrors of the Holocaust listening to my father at the dinner table. The passion he felt that we should have done more to prevent the Nazi campaign of systematic mass murder has stayed with me my entire life. It’s why I took my children to visit Dachau in Germany, and why I hope to do the same for each of my grandchildren — so they too would see for themselves the millions of futures stolen away by unchecked hatred and understand in their bones what can happen when people turn their heads and fail to act.

 

We must pass the history of the Holocaust on to our grandchildren and their grandchildren in order to keep real the promise of “never again.” That is how we prevent future genocides. Remembering the victims, heroes, and lessons of the Holocaust is particularly important today as Holocaust deniers and minimizers are growing louder in our public discourse. But the facts are not up for question, and each of us must remain vigilant and speak out against the resurgent tide of anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry and intolerance, here at home and around the world.”

 

 

– “Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” released January 27, 2021

 

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

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