Holding This Moment

02021-01-08 | Uncategorized | 10 comments

The following is a post I wrote a few months ago. After reading the comments to my last post I decided to post it now. I don’t believe most Americans have acknowledged racism the way Germans acknowledged the atrocities of the Third Reich. (((I heard somebody call it the Turd Reich and I think that’s pretty good))) As long as the real history is not taught in every school in the USA nothing will change and we are long way from that.

As a teenager in Germany in the mid-seventies I had to hear about our history’s darkest moments. In school I had to watch photos and films that showed the concentration camps and the emaciated and tortured bodies of Jews and Romani and political prisoners. I had to read how some people of my grandparents’ generation turned on their Jewish neighbors and denounced them. I remember sitting in class and weeping. I remember weeping at home before I fell asleep, because those images refused to stop flickering in my head.

Compared to the suffering of so many people under the Nazis my pain was like the momentary prick of a needle and, perhaps, it was like an immunization against that kind of discrimination and violence.

They were difficult lessons but I am grateful that I had to learn them. It is important to know what humans, even countrymen, can do in dark hours. It’s important to know what propaganda can accomplish in the hand of evil men and women.

I think many white Americans are scared to take a hard look at the systemic racism that exists in this country because they are afraid of the feelings they will encounter. They might feel a sense of shame for not having seen the extent of racism before, or for not having listened to the cries of injustice from the communities of people of color.

Yes, allowing yourself to empathically feel the pain that other people have had to endure will hurt, and it will hurt for a long time. The memory of that pain will become a tattoo on your heart, like the images of Auschwitz I carry on mine. It will start with letting events like George Floyd’s murder resonate with your heart instead of your head. Imagine that George Floyd was your father, instead of a man you did not know. Now the pain feels differently; it becomes a heart pain rather than a head pain.

This is a tempering of the heart, like the tempering of a hot iron in a tub of cold water. The tempering makes the iron stronger and likewise this tempering will make a heart stronger.

Recommended reading: A People’s History of the United States


  1. Liz in Ohio

    My history teacher made us watch innumerable “World At War” movies in class. It was so horrifying to see the images of what happened to people around the world through all the fighting in WWII. From Auschwitz to Hiroshima, the atrocities were so many. At times it was just so difficult to watch. But when I am having a tough day, I can look back on those lessons and images and know that if people in that generation could persevere and still bring love to others in the world, I can too! History is SO important but it is usually taught in a boring and disconnected way. Too many people don’t hear those lessons to draw on later in life.

    • JaneParhamKatz

      But where were the lessons of the horrors of racial and economic injustice in the history lessons of our own country.

  2. JaneParhamKatz

    Ottmar, thank you for sharing your experience as a German schoolboy. I was touched to my core.

    My friend, Volker, grew up in Germany, near Frankfurt. He never spoke about this, and he and I spent many hours together while working at NASA. Rascal that I am, one day I broke out singing, “Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles.” I like that old tune, anyway. Well, Volker turned red and sternly said, “Don’t ever sing that!” Volker has happily made a wonderful life for himself in America, and I love him dearly. He is a scientist and musician, not extremely political.

    • ottmar

      That verse of the anthem is forbidden by German law. That’s why he reacted like that.

      • JaneParhamKatz

        I knew it was bad, but I did not realize I had transgressed German law! I promise, never again!

  3. Nancy

    I toured Auschwitz when I was in my early 20’s. It made me physically ill. I reminded myself that I was only visiting – imagine being there. Those images have haunted me for 40 years. It made me weep too. I will never forget it.

    Two years ago I was doing volunteer work in Cambodia and saw the Killing Fields. Every one of the my friends and co-workers there had horror stories about the Khmer Rouge and how they had affected their families. I was also upset about the number of people there missing limbs from landmines that still remain. My favorite tuk-tuk driver was missing an arm from a land mine encounter. All of these things hurt my heart. I believe once you have seen these things you cannot be immune to what is going on today in the world. I am so disappointed in humanity on so many levels. I would like to think we are better than this.

  4. y

    fyi -“human good and evil are relative and the standards erected by ethics are uncertain as well as relative: what is forbidden by one religion or another, what is regarded as good or bad by social opinion, what is thought useful to society or noxious to it, whatsome temporary law of man allows or disallows, what is or is not considered helpful or harmful to self or others, what accords with this or that ideal, what is prompted or discouraged by an instinct which we call conscience, — an amalgam of all these view-points is the determining heterogeneous idea, constitutes the complex substance, of morality; in all of them there is the constant mixture of truth and half-truth and error which pursues all the activities of our limiting mental Knowledge-Ignorance”

    In my words – WTF do we know about what is right or wrong – good – evil – it’s an evolutionary impulse- who knows what emerges from what. Have to be a super – duper human (or god).

    Think the best we can do …is resist judging – (yes, we have laws but they are man made).

    Reconciliation is the name of the game !

    “Since 200,000 BCE, humanity has spread around globe and enacted huge change upon the planet. This video shows every year of that story, right from the beginning”


    • ottmar

      OMG what a copout. I hope life treats you well in your tower. Discernment is part of life. When you come to a makeshift bridge across a river do you not judge it to be able to carry your weight? Or is that judgement bad and you must walk across regardless.

      • y

        hmm – think you missed my point or jumped to fast to a conclusion?

        reconciliation is a tough path (or bridge) to walk.

  5. JaneParhamKatz

    The sad reality of the flawed human mind is brought painfully to light. I think we all have to learn and practice quieting our mind and observing and listening to what comes through the silence in order to find truthful solutions beyond the surface appearances.

    Now I have to listen to “Barcelona Nights” and “Santa Fe”!


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