Having spent the last three years studying genocide, I know far too well the tragedy of intolerance. Today, we spent a good part of the day in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. The cobblestone streets, that I have grown to be all too familiar with over the last two weeks, are missing a common element of daily life: cars. Why is this you may ask? It is because the Jewish Ghetto was constructed in such a way that even to this day it remains somewhat closed off from the rest of the world. Remains of the wall that was constructed to separate the Jews from the rest of Rome seem to narrow the streets as you walk by. Guards stand watch at each entrance to the Ghetto safeguarding the people from any discrimination that may still persist. In front of doors, there are golden plates embedded in the street in remembrance of families who had once lived there, but were torn from their homes because of their ethnicity by the Germans in 1943.
I like to believe that most of us look back at WWII with regret. We regret that so many lives were needlessly ended. We capture the grief in movies such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Schindler’s List. We encourage our young people to read books such as The Book Thief and Sarah’s Key. In high school, an entire unit was dedicated to teach my class about WWII and The Holocaust. But why? Why is there so much out there telling us about the tragedies that occurred throughout the world in the mid 20th century? After WWII, there was a mantra that was adopted by the international community: Never Again. Never again shall we what? Never again shall we turn a blind eye to our fellow human being. Never again shall we ignore the warning signs when they are so visibly apparent. Never again shall we allow such a great tragedy to plague our world.
Most people know about The Holocaust. It is something that everyone learns about in school, yet many people aren’t aware of the tragedies that have occured since the end of WWII in 1945 and those that are ongoing to this day. For example, the Rwandan genocide, The Ugandan genocide, The Cambodian genocide, just to name a few. As I am typing this hundreds of Rohingya Muslims are being terrorized and driven out of their native country of Myanmar. Our world is wracked by chaos. You can’t turn on the news without being bombarded with crimes that have occurred against our fellow man. Terrorist Attacks. Hate Crimes. Events which scare us and sometime make us wary to even check the news.
Today, I saw a wall that was constructed to KEEP PEOPLE IN. To segregate them from the rest of society. Although you feel regret for this wall ever having to exist, you feel joy for seeing it in shambles. The few remains exist as a remembrance of a great victory. You hear talk about walls in the states and it makes you wonder why we constantly let history repeat itself. We don’t need walls. What we need is tolerance, acceptance, knowledge, and more than anything love.
The thought of people who are different than us is scary. I know this from experience. The thing is, it is easy to be afraid of something that you know so little about firsthand. You can’t rely on what people tell you or what you hear in the media. You need to go out and find your own truth and I’m a firm believer that the only way to do that is to go out and experience that which you know nothing of. It is surprising how quickly you learn that people who you once thought were so different than yourself, are not that different at all.
So, I guess that what this post all comes down to, and trust me I know it isn’t this simple. I’m not offering a solution or some enlightened plan on how to handle the troubles of our world, but also bear in mind that what we are dealing with aren’t aliens from space. They are human beings, same as you and I, and although I recognize that not all of you out there are Christian, if you believe that Jesus accepted the prostitute, the leper, those who others cast their eyes down upon, then you should do the same. If we recognize the tragedy of The Holocaust than perhaps we need to challenge ourselves to respond and learn from those who chose to act, despite widespread indifference. Keep yourself accountable for your fellow man.
For those of you who decided to stick with me through all that, here are some photos of our exploration through Rome. This one is a photo of the inside of St. Bernard’s which is right outside the Jewish Ghetto.
And this one is a photo of what remains of the wall today….