This past Sunday, I had the absolute delight to attend a presentation by Dr. Eugen Schoenfeld. The 92 y.o. is an Auschwitz survivor, former Chair at Georgia State University, and gave a profound speech at The Breman Museum in Atlanta. He was part of the Museum's program of hosting survivors at free events for the public.
It was a packed house, people of all ages, as we first watched a short documentary of Schoenfeld relaying his travails during the Holocaust before he took the podium to speak for nearly an hour that included Q & A.
Dr. Schoenfeld is not the first survivor I have met. That distinction rest with Lola, who like Dr. Schoenfeld had a wicked sense of humour. Writing that last sentence, my curiosity wonders if that is a survivor's trait? I suppose there is a big depends attached to that.
I could write several pages on the presentation, how it moved me, and deep philosophies that he challenged his audience with - and I did appreciate the fact that he challenged his audience. He started by saying that it was time to move on from just observing The Holocaust to preventing the causes from existing that will create future ones. One thing the audience overwhelmingly shared with the speaker was the sense that we are seeing the rise of Fascism again and that no one sitting there that day was safe. I will stick to one point he made and one moving story he shared.
He wrote a paper, years ago, on how tolerance has flaws. He asserted that instead of tolerance we need accommodation based on shared moral understanding. Tolerance infers a weakness, superiority by one party over the other and makes zero headway in the two parties reaching an understanding. In fact with tolerance, one party is typically at the mercy of the other.
With accommodation, there is an acknowledgement of the individual differences and how two parties will work with each other along defined lines. He stressed that we are not solely individuals but rather interdependent and without accommodation to get us past wars, we will doom ourselves as a species.
There was a story he relayed from his experiences during the Holocaust. He spoke of being liberated by an American unit. He spoke English so the survivors chose him to speak on their behalf. Turns out the officer in charge was Jewish which shocked Dr. Schoenfeld at the time.
As former guards etc. were being marched out of the camp, Dr. Schoenfeld pointed out a Capo who had nearly killed him by beating him with a club. He told the American officer who the guy was and what he had done. The officer took out his sidearm, handed it to Schoenfeld and said, "Shoot him. Shoot him. Put a bullet in his head. No one will do anything to you if you kill him." Schoenfeld thought about it, then handed the pistol back. I wonder how many of us would've chosen that option.
I could go on about this event. It was extremely thought provoking for me. Even at his age, Dr. Schoenfeld was gracious enough to sign books, take photos etc afterwards and I got to ask a couple questions which made the experience that much richer for me. By the way, the title of his book is, My Reconstructed Life and can be ordered from the Breman Museum Gift Shop. In the current climate, the lessons of the past loom large. We all should learn from them.