“Do not ever let anyone tell you this didn’t happen”

It’s funny, a few weeks back a member of our cohort asked if anyone had some links they used to gather inspiration for writing. I answered quickly; nup – I just jot things down as I go, and use those. Maybe a sketchy memory of a dream, maybe something I’ve seen that day that’s inspired me.

And that’s about where my inspiration dried up. On the spot. It was like sharing that “secret” drained all my ideas. Until the weekend. Our media class had a field trip to Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Center. I’ve spent the last two days reeling through the lower end of my emotional repertoire.

It’s hard to fathom, even after 75 years’ analysis, what actually happened in Europe during the second world war. War itself is baffling enough to my generation; I was born at the tail end of Vietnam, and haven’t ever faced conscription, let alone actual participation. A skirmish here, another there; and two in the same place 10 years apart is the closest we’ve come in my lifetime. But nothing on the scale that ended oh-so-close to three quarters of a century ago.

I was lucky enough, though, to be “old” enough to have the chance to speak with my grandfather, CD Crellin, about his experiences in WWII. It was a blustery afternoon, and we stood at a large picture window in my family’s farmhouse lounge and nattered. Well, he nattered, I listened. He talked in hushed tones; as if speaking quietly of events somehow made them less fearsome. I was a writer – well, journalist – back then; and I kick myself to this day that I didn’t take down what he’d told me. Like Grandad, it’s lost to the foibles of time.

All I can gather now is a dry collection of his service records via (online) sources such as the Australian War Memorial and our National Archives. It’s a poor substitute, but in my youth I neglected to record his thoughts, so it will have to do.

One of our experiences during the weekend’s JHC visit was viewing a video our lecturer had made a few years ago with Phillip Maisel OAM, a nonagenarian who has taken the time, care and foresight to record thousands of survivor testimonies for the center.

Mr Maisel has gone to extraordinary lengths to record the memories of witnesses to that tragedy, to help ensure its events are never forgotten. It would be wonderful to think that maybe also one day some sense could be made of the massacre via these personal remembrances; but how can you make sense of the insane?

We were privileged, and I mean that sincerely, to have the opportunity to hear holocaust survivor Charles German speak. He didn’t “have a script”; and spoke from his heart. His tale of meeting, by chance and years later, two other child survivors of the same camp and their method of assessing their own truths – “if two of us have the same memory, we believe it to be true” is scientific enough for me. I’ve built my own childhood memories in a similar fashion; recounting stories with friends and family, finding similarities and amassing a fuller picture of our shared experiences.

What struck me hardest in Mr German’s address was the subtle, but enormous anger that crept into his voice when he spoke of holocaust denial. “Do not ever let anyone tell you this did not happen.” Delivered with quiet, but thorough disdain. A delivery only the truthful and the righteous could sustain. I agree with my classmates who have since written, questioning how there could be any doubt over the veracity of the holocaust and its tragic outcome for so many minority groups in Europe, not just Jewry. That it happened is bad enough; to pretend it didn’t is as horrific as the events themselves.

It’s almost too late now to gather much more first-hand evidence of WWII. The very youngest at its outbreak are now entering their eighth and ninth decades. We are out of time. Speak with these people; learn what they saw, feel what they felt. And record it – somehow – for following generations. It’s our way forward.

And: “Do not ever let anyone tell you this did not happen.”

 

More info:

Jewish Holocaust Center, Melbourne
Australian War Memorial records search
National Archives of Australia service records search

p.s. This is a wall of text by design. I do not own copyright to any images of the holocaust, and to use ‘found’ images which may or may not be authentic I believe risks disrespecting the happenings in Europe 75+ years ago.

A search using the twitter hashtag #ALC203 will return images taken during our visit on 30 April 2017 by others. I couldn’t stop shaking long enough to focus a camera.

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