Friday, April 13, 2018

Time marches on --- to the tune of forgetfulness

Those of us involved in the Design Division of Chariton Area Chamber-Main Street move from place to place for monthly meetings --- in the Chamber conference room now and then, at the high school since two of our members are students, last month in the now-vacant former home of the Chariton newspapers and yesterday --- in the post-World War II annex to the American Legion Hall, built to house the Legionnaires' bar and club room, now refurbished as a conference room/meeting space.

So we were sitting around a table talking about a space that now looks much like any other well-appointed modern conference room, mostly for the benefit of division members who had never been inside before, and someone mentioned that this wing of the post-World War I hall --- a dignified and graceful brick structure designed by Chariton architect William Lee Perkins --- was a repurposed Quonset hut, purchased as thousands were after World War II as government surplus and then given a masonry facade that disguises the hoop shape of the original corrugated metal building.

Some were surprised some years ago, when the time came to add the Legion Hall to the National Register of Historic Places, that our architectural historian was as excited by the "hut" as she was by the main building and it became a major talking point in the building's successful nomination.

The surprise yesterday, at least to those of use more or less in the Baby Boomer generation, was that our younger friends, from high school age through Millennial, had no idea what a Quonset hut was. Oops. Time moves on and forgetfulness takes charge.


On an entirely different and far more significant level, Thursday also was Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day --- not something we talked about at that morning meeting.

But I did read several reports during the day suggesting that our collective memory of the Holocaust and its implications also is fading as Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans die and Baby Boomers age.

A surprising number, especially of Millennials (roughly defined as those 18-34 years of age), had little if any knowledge of the Holocaust according to one survey, more underestimated its toll (approximately 6 million European Jews were slaughtered) and many couldn't name even one of the notorious "camps" where slaughter occurred --- Auschwitz, for example.


And then there were the posts that appeared in my social media feeds that focused on what generally is characterized as "comparative genocide."

Those who enter this historical minefield generally argue that while the Holocaust was undeniably horrible, comparaisons can be made between it and other atrocities --- in the United States, for example, with the horrors of slavery and the fate of millions of indigenous people.

On the one hand, it's positive to see growing awareness of humanity's "inhumanity" on various levels; on the other, it's very important to understand the that Holocaust was unique in human history in ways that defy comparison.

Winston Churchill declared, "'There is no doubt this is the most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world, and it has been done by scientific machinery by nominally civilised men in the name of a great State and one of the leading races of Europe." 

And Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt has added, "It was the only time in recorded history that a state tried to destroy an entire people, regardless of an individual's age, sex, location, profession, or belief. And it is the only instance in which the perpetrators conducted this genocide for no ostensible material, territorial, or political gain." 

As many others have pointed out, the Holocaust remains beyond comprehension. Which is why it must be remembered.

We all look for explanations. I'm convinced, for example, that the seeds of the Holocaust --- and much other wickedness --- were planted and nurtured by the Christian movement as it wrestled its way into power and worked to solidify its influence, still an ongoing process.

But that doesn't explain the Holocaust, neither promoted nor countenanced by the church as a whole although certainly tolerated in its darkest recesses.

It remains an example, perhaps the purest, of pure evil and a reminder of what can happen when the careful balance in all of us between good and evil tips toward the latter.

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