Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Both Sides Now: Auschwitz to Palestine

While at Bethlehem Bible College this past week, I picked up a booklet of poetry about the Holocaust and the Gaza strip. It's called From Both Sides Now: Poems for the Journey -- Auschwitz to Palestine, and is written by Rev. Maria Shepherdson.

The inscription on the cover reads: "Unless you see from both sides of the divide you cannot begin to travel a mile in the other person's shoes. Unless you travel that mile your prayers will always be one dimensional when they need to be all encompassing, all embracing."

When I first opened the book at random, I found myself reading the second half of a haunting poem. Haunting because it speaks of a complicated reality. A reality that I can't quite fit my mind around. A reality where there are no monsters -- no convenient orcs to demonize -- but only humans. Humans that can love and hate, kiss and kill.

I wish I could swear I would have been different, had I been there. That I would have been one of the few, risking my life to save another. Not having lived through it, we all believe it to be true: we would have been different. But what are we doing now, today, about Bethlehem? About Gaza? About the ghettos and the walls?

It's not the same. We say it's not the same. No one's dying. At least, not to the same degree. This isn't a holocaust. It's just a protective barrier. A war against terrorism.

How quickly words protect us from the truth.

What scares me, is that the Holocaust was not an act of creation: something out of nothing. It was a process. A slow road of dehumanization. A separation of "us" from "them". Stereotyping and demonizing. And when you build a wall, and allow your young boys to carry guns (as though there were rabid dogs roaming the street -- dangerous and savage), and implement collective punishment, and deny a race of humans their rights to lawyers and courts and laws and justice, where does the road lead? Where has it already led? Sabra, Shatila, Hebron, Bethlehem.

May God have mercy on a generation that has looked, is still looking, the other way . . .

* * *

(the last four stanzas are my favorite)

Where is God?

Christ carries His cross
And five Arimethean Joseph's lift the timbers off his lacerated back
Themselves torn apart by grief, hunger, angry pain and

The boots were stolen from one who became smoke
Consumed by flames in the giant bakery of the enemy
It did not lessen the sickening thud of impact
Nor make the bruises less waspish in intensity

The foot belonged to a fellow Jew
A human whose humanity had long ago been traded for an extra crust
A chance to survive
Through serving a whimsical master-overseer of Life and
One more day in a hell marginally less hellish than for others.

The voice that shrills a threat
Has also cooed and chortled to a child
And whispered love nothings to a wife
Spoke out the texts
And prayers
In Church

The eye that witnessed such degradation
Without being moved to pity or protest
Once wept for the death of a wounded bird.

And Which would we have been

Christ crucified
Josephs petrified
The booted dehumanised
The watcher desensitised?

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson

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