Monday Morning Musings
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. “
–T.S. Eliot. “The Waste Land”
Today is April 13. The sun is rising on what promises to be a lovely spring day in New Jersey with bright sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures rising into the 70s. Yet as T.S. Eliot noted, April can be cruel month. In the warmth and light, as the once white snow melts into the thawing soil, tender buds appear on trees, wisps of green appear in yards and woods, flowers suddenly burst through the ground almost overnight, and birds smartly chirp, “I’m back!”—as new life creeps out from the gray and decay of winter and the natural world is reborn, so are people who have huddled and hidden from the cold. April, a month of life and beauty, is also a time of protest, conflict, and death.
Last week many in the United States celebrated the unofficial ending of the US Civil War 150 years ago, as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. The surrender did not, however, end the fighting entirely, and pockets of insurgency continued for months, followed by years of military occupation of the south and the process of Reconstruction. Five days after the surrender, on April 14, 1865, the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, as he and first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, watched the play, Our American Cousin. In Booth’s eyes and those of his co-conspirators, the war and the southern cause were not finished.
This week in April marks the Week of Remembrance, to remember the Holocaust.
“The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Each year state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, religious organizations, and civic centers host observances and remembrance activities for their communities. These events can occur during the Week of Remembrance, which runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) through the following Sunday.”
Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943. On that date—deliberately chosen because it was the eve of Passover that year–German forces were about to begin an operation to totally liquidate the ghetto. Earlier attempts in the previous fall and winter had been met with resistance, and although thousands of Jewish residents of the ghetto were deported and others were killed in fighting, the Nazis temporarily suspended transports. The renewal of the Nazi attempts to completely liquidate the ghetto was a signal for the Jews there to begin the uprising. Ultimately, the German forces razed the ghetto, and though they expected the fighting to continue for three days, it lasted for over a month. It was an important symbolic fight for Jews throughout occupied Europe. You can read more about it here.
Not all Jews were instantly transported to ghettos and concentration camps. Some hid, helped by others who brought them food and necessities, and who sometimes betrayed them, too. Anne Frank was one of many Jews who hid in secret place during the Holocaust. Most know about her life because of her famous diary, which was published after her death and has been read by millions throughout the world. In recent months, new information has been uncovered, including that she and her sister Margot most likely died in February, not March 1945. Information about her and her life can be found in many places, including the house itself, now a museum and educational center. Here is a link to the Anne Frank House .
Annefrank.org.uk is commemorating Anne Frank’s brief life by celebrating it with her words instead of a with a moment of silence.
“Instead of a one minute’s silence to commemorate the end of Anne Frank’s short life, we invite you to read out loud a one minute passage from Anne’s inspirational writing at any time on or after Tuesday 14th April.” You can find out more here. They ask participants to use the hashtag #notsilent.
This is one of my favorite passages:
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
— Anne Frank, July 15, 1944
We will never know if Anne would still have written these words after the horrors she witnessed and experienced at Bergen-Belsen before her death there in 1945. But as the passage makes clear, she knew of the horrors; she knew that all around her people were dying, along with the world she had known. While hiding in the Secret Annex, however, she also experienced on a daily basis, the kindness, goodness, and bravery of people who risked their lives and those of their families to help Anne and hers.
Choosing not to be silent can be dangerous, but when possible, it can bring enormous good. Humans have an almost infinite capacity for evil, but I like to think we have the same capacity to be kind. When cruelty and evil can be documented and exposed in cell phone videos, Internet campaigns, and newspaper articles and editorials, it is a good thing, and it’s very different from spreading gossip about people or events. Sharing Anne Frank’s words might not do any tangible good, but hearing and reading her words may inspire others to believe in goodness, and they may demonstrate that though this intelligent, vibrant young woman was destroyed, her spirit lives on. April is also National Poetry Month, and it is a time to celebrate the wonders of human creativity and emotion. We know that even in the concentration camps, some people–against all odds, it seems to me–continued to write, to create art, sing, and play music.
April can be cruel; so can the other months of the year. I choose to see its beauty, the buds on the tree, the sweetly blooming flowers, and the poetry and music of life.