Dee's Blog
Tue 04/28/2009
Still Questioning
Topic: Holocaust

"Was I wrong?" Livia asked, now 70 years afterward, as she stood before one of many audiences she has addressed all over the world.  Perhaps I read her wrong, but I had a sense she wasn't just trying to spark some decision.  The question seemed to come from an unresolved insecurity.

At the age of 6, when their Hungarian oppressors had put out a decree that all Jews should wear the yellow star on EVERY single garment they wore, this little girl quietly rebelled.  She wasn't going to play their game!  Yet every other member of her family--all of them older-- did.

Livia did wear the stars to school, but would walk as close to the buildings as possible so her star wouldn't be readily visible to the public.  From the moment of the decree until they were put into train cars seven years later, Livia chose to give up many of the joys of her childhood and to isolate herself in her home, the only place where a star was not required. 

"How would YOU feel?"  she asked the audience, in an attempt to get us to formulate a reply to the first question.  "I felt so ashamed," she continued.

Soon, very timidly, some on the lower section began to raise their hands and to speak.  They could understand why a little girl would make such a choice.

I raised my hand, too far away and perhaps too late for her to acknowledge practically.  So I may never find a way to say what I wanted to say.  It is this:  "Livia, you were courageous and making a choice to be different in a way that hurt you, but made a statement to the world through your testimony today!"  That's the life of a rebel.  Whether through a hunger strike or a decision not to follow along with the obedient.  I'm sorry for what it cost you, but I thank you for your courage."

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:48 AM CDT
Sun 04/26/2009
Resourcefulness Required
Topic: Holocaust

When Livia Bitton-Jackson came on the stage last Tuesday night, all of us in the audience stood, without prompting, and applauded.   She was embarrassed, though gracious.  Told us that she didn't deserve this honor.  The real honor goes to those who did not survive, the ones she represented by telling her own story.

Her only request was that we go forth and tell her story.  She would be pleased to know that I have already done so several times this week--both in person and in writing.

I noted how many times I've asked people, as an author, to do exactly that with my own story.  It's certainly not a holocaust story.  Yet it is a story that is filled with some unique lessons about how people collude with evil in order to heap flaming coals on the head of one who is speaking truth about a problem that needs a lot of attention.

What I sense is fear.   I suppose it would be like Livia asking the German people to talk about her story at their family gatherings, to make it a part of their aubiographical dialogue. 

When people who are close to the church and have the need to "protect" the institution and it's "sacred" beliefs about itself and what it believes about God, there seems to be a huge disconnect, a refusal to "own" the story about complicity and collusion.

Why should I be surprised?  Like everyone and every culture, I am as prone as anyone to hide and ignore my own shadow side.  Yet hope is found only when we face our shadows and are transformed.

That's a very big job--one that all of us will do well to embrace as we learn to tell the stories of others for the greater good.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 9:41 AM CDT
Sat 04/25/2009
Meeting A Real Holocaust Survivor
Topic: Holocaust

Though I've read many stories, I've never been in the same room with a "real" Holocaust survivor until this week.  Dr. Livia Bitton-Jackson visited Omaha and spoke to a packed audience where I was privileged to be.  Livia has written three autobiographical books in order to tell her story of survival. 

The title of the first describes what she feels deeply:  I've Lived a Thousand Years (best priced as a paperback at Borders). 

Livia told many unique, personal stories.  A few were funny, thankfully, to break the gloom of the overall story.  Several told of how prejudice grows in an individual or in a society.

Today, I attended the funeral of Hugh Marshall, my 90-year-old former student.  That funeral had something in common with Livia Bitton-Jackson's speech about the Holocaust.  Both were reminders that when our lives are dynamic--and certainly both of these individual lives were--we have the sense of having lived "a thousand years."  That sense seems to be increased, whether our lives are made up of many horrors or of dramatically wonderful events.  Both have the potential for changing us in positive ways.

Some would say that Hugh was a rather common man compared to Livia.  Yet neither were common at all.  For both have overcome adversities, managed to survive monumental challenges and to be a tremendous blessing to others. 

May your "thousand years" be filled with increasing joys, as mine has!  May you find many people to inspire you along the way!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 9:47 PM CDT

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