Do Not Stay Silent, Though April Can Be Cruel

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.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

Buds appearing on our old oak tree, April 2015.

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17 thoughts on “Do Not Stay Silent, Though April Can Be Cruel

  1. When I taught these lines from T. S. Eliot, I would feel a hesitation about accepting the idea of April and cruelty, since then flowers like snow whites and daffodils arise from their winter slumber, and the world anticipates spring. All the historical data here proves me wrong although you note that bad things do happen in other months too. I appreciate the Anne Frank reference and quote. She always inspires!

    Like you, I choose to focus on beauty and buds over brutality.

    • Thanks for your comments, Marian. I know there’s a lot more to Eliot’s poem, but the April lines are well-known. I suppose, too, when one is in a hopeless situation, the beauty of spring can seem like a mockery.

  2. Lets hope that with the renewal of spring comes a renewal of hope and a start towards the reconciliation of all opposing sides in all the terrible wars. The return of stolen children, the handshake and hug of Arab and Jew and the realisation by ISIS that they can’t win a war of hate when people are prepared to love.
    Hugs

  3. A fabulous but sobering post, Merril. So beautifully written and it really touched my heart. We had our vigil for Anne Frank the other night and set up a series of tea lights in a circle outside and had her photo up on the laptop.
    It was challenging trying to share her story with the kids who live in such a different world on so many levels but I do believe that the foundation has been laid, which can be added onto later. xx Rowena

    • Thanks so much, Rowena. I’m glad my post touched your heart! My daughter is about to start reading the Diary of Anne Frank with her 8th grade students, but she’s been discussing the Holocaust with them because most of them have no knowledge of it. She said they had some really great discussions.

      • It would be very helpful hearing the history of the Holocaust from someone with Jewish heritage. I always like that personal touch to history. I often forget that my kids don’t know what I know and my husband uses all these incredibly long words with them and I look at the poor things and ask them if they understood. I sometimes think he speaks a foreign language. Correction. I know he does. He works in IT and is full of technical talk as well.

  4. What a beautiful and poignant message. I love Anne Frank, and ever since the first time I read her diary as a kid, I felt so connected to her. Have you ever been to the Holocaust Museum in D.C.? That’s the best one I’ve seen… the room of shoes and the teeth send shivers through my bones. Once my son got to interview a lady for school who was German (not Jewish) and was a child during the Holocaust, and it was so interesting to hear how little non-military people really knew about what was going on at the time as far as concentration amps and what went on there. She said soldiers would be stationed throughout town, and they would listen at your windows, and if they heard you speak out against Hitler, they’d come take you away, and people would never see you again. Her brother was drafted into Hitler’s army at 17, and was killed by German soldiers only a few months later because he spoke out.

    • Thanks so much, Rachel. I visited the Holocaust Museum many years ago, but I haven’t been there in a long time. I’m always a bit suspicious of claims not to have known what was going on in concentration camps. That is very sad though about the woman’s brother!

  5. This is such an excellent post. I am interviewing a friend for my blog who works as a tour guide at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. What an amazing month April is. On a tiny scale, my father-in-law died suddenly many years ago on Hitler’s birthday, April 20, and ten days later, hubby and I found we were adopting our son (who wouldn’t be born until August) who now carries the Hebrew name for his grandfather.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Luanne. I’ve never been to the museum in LA, but I imagine it’s both challenging and amazing to be a tour guide there. That’s a cool story about your son! I was pretty sure I had just become pregnant (and I mean just) when I learned my aunt had died. Our younger daughter is named for her–not the same name, but same initial.

  6. Anne Frank is called the girl who lived forever. Her words haunt and inspire us still. I love this quote that you posted: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Yes, there are evil people, but there are also those who have a tremendous capacity for love, kindness and generosity.

    I reposted a video of people in traffic in Israel on the Day of Remembrance … where everything stopped for about 3 minutes. It was eerie and beautiful. I wish all the madness could stop just like that.

    • Thanks, Judy. I wish that could happen, too. I just showed an article to my daughter who is teaching the play version of the diary to her 8th graders. The article quotes some survivors of Auschwitz who will be attending the trial of one of the men who stood on the selection platform. They all said it wasn’t the punishment wasn’t as important at this point as the process of him being tried.

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