Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What the Shoes Show

Ned left on a bus one early morning light for Washington, DC. It was his Junior Class trip, a memory in the making. I had driven him and some of his friends to town a few days before their departure, overhearing their conversations in the car as we drove along.

The subject of politics quite naturally arose, as some performers had come to their school to share the Palestinian side of the story through dance and talkback after the show. One comment led to another, and then to the War in Iraq, which was unpopular among the kids. I asked what they thought about terrorism in general and was appalled to learn they unanimously thought that “Evil is just a state of mind.”

“These are the days,” I thought to myself, grateful for the excellent teachers who would soon be leading these very same kids through the Holocaust Museum and show (not tell) that evil is more than just a state of mind. I had debated it with them, saying I thought evil can be a state of mind, but it can also become manifest, and, sometimes, when it does, the right thing to do is to stand against it. That was not a popular viewpoint among this set of young people as we drove along toward town, just prior to their departure for the class trip to Washington, DC.

I had used Hitler as my example. Having tea with Hitler didn’t work. He just kept killing, until, as E.B. White said, “The English were eating swastika for breakfast.” By the time Ned and his classmates returned now from their trip to the Holocaust Museum, they were changed people. They had come face to face with an exhibit there that devastated them -- piles of shoes worn by Jews who died horrifically because people kept having tea with Hitler. Ned said he could hardly stand up and some of his classmates had to go to bed early because of those shoes. The tower of real shoes worn by real people was powerful, tangible proof that there are times when not doing anything is as evil as the evil itself.

The shoes are just as relevant today. They show that it is wrong to behead people just because they don’t believe as you do. “Suicide bombing” is really “homicide bombing” – yet so many seem reticent to say so. We seem to have confused two facts: (1) the fact that freedom gives everyone “the right” to believe whatever they choose to believe versus (2) the fact that believing whatever one believes does not make it right. There is a frightening unwillingness to stand against something, even something so obviously deranged. To do so would require standing for something else, but in today’s lexicon, that would be considered intolerance.

We are in evil times again in this, the era of Violent Jihad. This time, there is no uniformed army or identifiable enemy; this time, the swastika is invisible but insidious and sprinkled, like cancer cells, all over our planet. Many do not think so. They think we should have tea with this enemy, just like we once had tea with Hitler.

The People of Sighe

“That the Holocaust happened is an outrage. It is described, in microcosm, by this story of Jews in a little Transylvanian town called Sighe, who were brought news of unimaginable massacres by a witness who had himself escaped. Incredulous, the people dismissed the man’s report, mocking his pleas and warnings, agreeing that he was, in all probability, a madman. Thus they became blind in the face of a destiny they could have escaped; thus they submitted with inconceivable passivity as they gave themselves up to it.”

Elie Wiesel, Night

Could we be echoing the people of Sighe? In my age group and in the group surrounding Ned and his classmates, we do seem to have plenty of people claiming it’s insane to be so concerned about Violent Jihad. But remember the shoes, the enormously tall pile of shoes. Proof that unimaginable horror can indeed happen, and will, if a few good people choose to do nothing.

Educated people, we Americans – highly educated. Yet here we are, drowning in our sea of knowledge. It seems we have all the knowledge in our heads but not, it seems, a lot of wisdom. We cower to any distinctions between “right” and “wrong” because to do so would be considered “judgmental” -- and God forbid we should judge! Good judgment in our country today is practically a swear word (at the very least it is no longer synonymous with discernment). When I grew up, there was such a thing as using good judgment. Not anymore – it seems to have become politically incorrect to stand against another person’s opinion, period. It’s as though “judgment” has become a swear word.

I believe that Violent Jihad epitomizes intolerance and bigotry and actual lunacy. I believe we must stand against it, for it is more widespread and insidious than Hitler’s Nazism ever was. If we do not, we could be eating swastika of a different kind – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and, like the people of Sighe, fall victim to a destiny we could have escaped.

I am grateful for the Holocaust Museum and its pile of shoes. Ned and his classmates left for this trip knowing about what had happened, but returned knowing that what happened, happened. I doubt they still think evil is just a state of mind.


  1. OH wow, Whitney. What a powerful story. Thank God for those folks at the Holocaust Museum who open their doors every single day to show the world the truth. He who has an ear let him hear!

    Praying that, like Eve in the Garden of Eden, we do not fall prey to the lies that surround us!

  2. Thank you, Emilie! I am praying that, too. I love you, though we've never met -- but you are Familie my dear Emilie. I really appreciate your comments -- I'm new at this, so I don't really know if I'm supposed to write back, but how could I not?!?