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Strength to Face the Horror

As you have probably already read, Caroline is coming to visit me soon. Amongst a few of the items on her list of things she wanted to do was going to a concentration camp. I have to say that although I have often thought about it, I never thought I would actually go to one. Knowing it was something I should do didn't seem enough to get me over the fear of going. It is frightening and upsetting - and yet so poignantly a part of the history of the world. My spirit and desire to go was bolstered today by a conversation I had with a student.

Hélène is an incredibly sweet girl who struggles against the worst opposition in English - she just can't grasp the "how." We met when I was doing observations in October. However, as I saw a good percentage of the English students that week, I didn't pay a ton of attention. Then we met again at the youth group. She was sitting next to me when we were deciding on stuff to do and we bonded over our love for crafty projects. I started tutoring her a few weeks later, and she is more than a student now, she is very much my friend.

So today when I ran into her in the Vie Scolaire and she could barely speak due to a sore throat, I had her come upstairs with me so I could give her some cough drops from my stash. We got to talking a bit about how and where we lived, and I wound up pulling out the computer trying to find pictures of houses I've lived in in the states. She was shocked to hear that more people lived in our housing development than lived in her whole village (Population=500).

Somewhere in the realm of pictures-showing we got to talking about historic war sites. She told me about a village in the south of France her grandfather had taken her to. It was a national historic town now, because it was the site of a huge masacre after WWII. Shortly after Armistice Day, all the Germans were leaving France. Unfortunately for this town, they weren't in a great mood. They gathered all of the women and children into the church and took all the men out to a field. They summarily executed the men - I believe (translation trouble) after setting them on fire with a flame thrower. As you probably guessed, they torched the church too. As if that wasn't enough to quell their hatred, they then took the flame thrower to everything in the town; not a building escaped the fire. Of a town of 500, there were five survivors: 2 or 3 men, a woman and her child. The child died not long after. A 1% survival rate - and the war was already over.

Today, they have rebuilt the town just next to the old one. They haven't touched the old one except to hang pictures on the wall that led into the town. As you go by on the train, the same train track the Germans had gotten everyone off of to bring them into the town, there is a picture of every single person who was killed in the masacre. No one speaks when visiting the town. Everything is just as it was left. Metal poles, glass bottles, the faces of porcelain dolls, and the car in the middle of the town square are all there. Except that it is all melted. I imagine it is hard to tell the difference between where the shadows start and the char marks end. I don't know if I'd have the strength to find out.

And as I said that to Hélène, she told me that I had to go. Not necessarily to the town, but at least to a concentration camp. She said that I had a responsibility to go because so many people from America could not or would not. It was so far I might never have the chance to go again. She explained that her grandfather had taken her because she needed to be a witness. She needed to see history and carry the story on to others who didn't know it or couldn't see it themselves. He never wanted her to forget this horrific part of history, because it was important to remember. When he was a child during the war, he lived in Belgium. He barely escaped an attack on a car, that was blown up to prevent a family's ability to escape. Every year until he died he went back to the site of that bombing to pay his respects.

Today Hélène paid her respects to her grandfather by passing the story of that village on to me. In respect to the 16 year old girl who has given me the courage to face the atrocities of the Holocaust, I share this story with you. Let us never forget so that we never have to relive such times again. May God bless the souls of everyone touched by the hands of evil and help us all to become beacons of his love. Love always, ~Heather