This morning on my way home from church, I turned on our local NPR station, knowing that I had already missed much of The Moth. The Moth is a non-profit group that presents storytelling events across the U.S. and abroad. Today the locale was Dublin. Sometimes the stories are good, sometimes not so great in my opinion. Some are stories that NPR calls “driveway moments.” In other words you pull into your driveway, the story is not finished so you turn off the ignition, sit and listen, taking a wonderful story into your heart and mind.
The story that I had tuned into was being told by a man with an elder’s voice. At the end of the narrative, I learned a new name: Tomi Reichental, author and speaker on the Holocaust.
Mr. Reichental was born in 1935 and spent months in a concentration camp with his mother and brother. I don’t know the details of their detention: his book I Was a Boy in Belsen will be released soon.
His narrative today was of one memory from 1944 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany. One day he, his mother, and brother, along with many other women and children, were made to undress. They were marched into a large concrete room and handed bars of soap. The door was then closed and locked; the guards had walked away. The women looked up at the showerheads that lined the ceiling. Two or three minutes passed. The naked mothers held onto their children. There was no talking, just looks of anguish on the women’s faces. Reichental was pressed against his mother’s cold body. He could hear her heart pounding.
Then all of a sudden the hiss of the showers began and warm water sprayed down on all.
The women started laughing and crying. They were hugging each other, and this nine-year-old boy could not understand. It was just a shower after all. The only one he would have during his imprisonment at Belsen.
It was only later after their release, when he says his life began, that he understood why his mother and all of the other women had been so joyous when the water rained down on them. They all knew of the death chambers, thousands who had been handed bars of soap and then marched into gas chambers.
Mr. Reichental is eighty-one years old. He tells his story and writes his story, hoping that his Holocaust experience will be etched in our minds, as it is in his.
Recently Donald Trump said on television that he asks his supporters to raise their hands because they like it so much. They like to show their commitment. They are certain they will vote for Trump. It’s all in good fun. And I don’t believe that Mr. Trump is thinking of Hitler when his supporters raise their hands.
Many viewers are probably scoffing at the criticism that the Jewish community has heaped on Trump. But my immediate thought was maybe that’s how the German community began their support of Hitler. All in patriotic zeal. Excitement. A time to hope for change.
Whether it be a Trump, a Clinton, a Sanders, or a Cruz, we aren’t electing a dictator. We are electing a president who needs to know about the world and about history. We need a leader who isn’t all about him or herself, but about the commitment that all leaders must make to peace and justice and love for all. I don’t know if that man or woman is running for the office of President, but during this election season, I would hope that the candidates and all of us can remember the Holocaust and be sensitive to those who bear its scars. It is the very least that we can do.