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Tuesday, Apr 23 2013 11:00 PM

LEANNE KNUDSEN: Ingredients that produced the Holocaust still part of our world

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    Leanne Knudsen

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Memorial days have special meanings in the context of each community, country or solitary heart for which it has been set apart. To some, they are days of rejoicing for rescue from great tyranny and oppression. To others, they may signify a sole victory in the form of a protest, a march, a "tea party," if you will. They may memorialize a conquest, a long-fought bloody strife over terra firma or the righteous repeal of an evil dictatorship. Most often, they include remembrance and gratitude for the soldiers who bought that freedom's victory with their very life's blood. Too recently in America, we are having memorials for slain innocents and loved ones.

We have our unique heroes of each war, of each protest against injustice. Whether George Washington or George Patton, Martin Luther King Jr. or Cesar Chavez, we memorialize our heroes in our own context and communities. Worldwide, we may celebrate Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Ghandi. But some memorials include the selfless acts of the unknown heroes, the everyday decisions by regular citizens to do what is right while placing their own lives and families in danger's path. Those are the countless deeds that are honored during Holocaust remembrances this month.

That remembrance is best symbolized by the Warsaw Poland ghetto uprising, an event that signifies all things Holocaust-related in World War II, Yom HaShoah in Hebrew. This time of reflection symbolizes the results of not just one tyrant's hatred and systematic ethnic cleansing, but the result of worldwide evil and unfathomable complicity in cities and villages around much of our globe. The impact of one city that was more than 80 percent demolished between the Nazi intrusion in 1939 through the last vestiges of brutality from a 63-day struggle in late 1944, is a memorial to carnage that devastated our planet in one way or another.

The students and faculty of CSU Bakersfield held an excellent program of forums on the Holocaust. It culminated April 17 with the riveting presentation of Dorothy Greenstein, 82, a child survivor from Poland, currently an international speaker and volunteer at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The Student Union room was standing-room only as families, high school students and community visitors sat in rapt attention for 90 minutes for her tale of horror and hideous inhumanity: a first-person narrative from the days that an 8 year-old girl, one of 10 children, escaped each appointment with death. Her "angels" protecting and guiding her to the next day's miraculous survival, ones which did not include her parents, brother and neighbors, in a country that just wanted "vermin Jews dead."

Have we become comfortably numb to another country's human suffering, torture or genocide, as implied by The Californian's April 16 editorial ("Boston blasts shake America back to reality")? We read about Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, Syria. But we gorge ourselves on "The Amazing Race," Snooki's latest escapade and Leno-Conan-Fallon contests. Suicide bombers are problems for the dark Middle East -- until it's Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center or Boston. And now our nation wraps its arms around a city devastated by destruction and terror.

Thank you to our president and leaders who set the example by attending the memorials where we honor the innocent victims of hatred's evil fruit. May we strive to support and honor all the memorials of inhumanity's victims, that reassuring arms may also encircle us during our trials and tears of loss.

Leanne Knudsen of Bakersfield is a housewife and mother who is active in church, community and humanitarian issues.

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