Over the years, many have urged me to keep quiet—“You cannot say that”—some even to change my political affiliations. “Come over to the liberal side, and you’ll have more chances with women.” I do not know how to be silent when my heart calls me. I cannot become a man whom I am not, even if it means I frustrate people, lose friends and have fewer companions at my dinner table. Tonight, though I would rather be in bed, I feel compelled to write, so write I must. I know no more disturbing subject to discuss than the Holocaust. Looking through the Shutterstock images under that title is almost more than I can bear. I just need two.
On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, I urge you to speak up when you see injustice. Speak up while you still have a right. Speak up while you still have your voice. Never let anyone dissuade you from your truly-held convictions, no matter the promises, no matter the cost. It takes courage to take a firm stand when you are one of the few; it takes courage to take a firm stand when you are the only one. Stand you must, however, to avoid living what Henry David Thoreau referred to as “lives of quiet desperation.” Speak up, but keep your emotions in check in the same manner as one bridles a fine horse, not to break its spirit, but only to focus its exertions.
Listen. Listen first. Harness reason in all your arguments. Quietly persuade. Persist. My late friend, Charlie Maust, whom I knew for less than one year—age 89 to age 90—taught me an invaluable life lesson. One night, as we were preparing to attend a city council meeting to try to keep the proposed City Hall building off the Village Green, he suggested we ought to sit back and let everyone else talk first, believing that the majority of people would not have much worthwhile to say: “They don’t know what they are talking about, said he. “They love to hear themselves talk.” How right he was. Thank you, Charlie. Listening, I discovered, would arm one with all the ammunition one needed to make sound arguments, to defeat the enemy by carefully dismantling his arguments. Listen. Reason. Speak up! Persist. You can have all the guns in the world on your side, but without wisdom, without reason, like an unbridled horse—recklessly emotional, you will ultimately lose the battle.
On this sorrowful day, with profound reverence for all who fell victim to the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II, I cannot write more poignant words than those of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
April 12, 2018: I shall let these words stand for all those who whose voices were silenced.
The haunting, ghastly, ghoulish, ghostly nightmare of the Holocaust is over, is it not? Yet, by our silence, sew we the poisonous seeds anew?
(Photo credit at top of page-photo collage: Giuseppe Crimini/Shutterstock)