Today is the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. With as few as 300 survivors left, it is up to all of us to learn as much as we can from them and pass their unfathomable stories along to our future generations with the hopes that this will never happen again. Unfortunately, I have been fortunate enough to experience something nobody in the world will ever experience again. I would like to take this day to tell the story of the first and only time I've ever watched the famous movie Schindler's List.
December 1993, I was on Christmas break visiting my grandparents in Kings Point in Delray Beach, FL (an old retirement village in South Florida filled mostly with old Brooklyn Jews). Normally we would be at the beach all day and then find a fine dining establishment for dinner but rain squashed those plans. A movie sounds like good idea. What to watch, what to watch? "Well, Schindler's List just came out, let's watch that," my mom says. Sure, why not? I'm 11, I've already watched all the other ones. We get a bag of popcorn and a big coke and sit down to enjoy the movie. Slowly the theater starts filling up with old Yentas, Moshes, and Irvings. They are all speaking Yiddish and I just tuned them all out. The movie starts and you could hear a pin drop.
Every so often there would be someone yelling things out in Yiddish. Being from Atlanta, I was used to people being loud and shouting at the movie screen (please reference Ralphie May's take on a Black Movie Theater in Atlanta). There were too many things going on for me to follow so I started dozing off. At some point, I awoke to horrible screams and crying. People are throwing things, yelling in Yiddish, brandishing their walkers and canes in the air, fists balled up. Scary old people grabbing me and showing me the numbers tattooed on their arms and crying. It was total pandemonium in that theater. I look over at my mother and I asked what the hell just happened and what they were all yelling? Can you imagine the look on my mother's face when she realized, she just took me to see a movie about the Holocaust with a bunch of people who were actually there. The emotions that were going on in that room were a lot to handle. Mad, angry, upset, hurt...there are no words that could describe the feelings....these people were fucking traumatized. By the end, people were just sobbing and rocking back and forth in their seats.
I realized from that experience that no matter how much you read, or see pictures, or hear stories about what happened in the concentration camps, you will never fully grasp the severity of the situation. There is no way for the human brain to comprehend such atrocities. I know that I learned what looks like to blindly obey the law. I learned that the right thing is usually the hardest and most dangerous thing to do, but it has to be done. I saw what it looked like to loose the freedom to exist even for a fraction of one's lifetime and I never, ever want to experience that. I will never forget, and I will always be suspicious of the government's interest towards its citizenry.