In memory of those who suffered the holocaust

Dorian de Wind

Retired U.S. Air Force Officer and writer

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Monday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day (in the U.K., Holocaust Memorial Day).

The World War II generation of the de Wind family was immensely and disproportionately affected by the Holocaust.

On the occasion of this solemn day, I want to recount two stories — retell is a better word since both have been published before.

The first one was about one relative, Louis de Wind, who was on “the last train to Auschwitz.”

This one is about all the de Winds who suffered under the Nazis and paid a heavy price for being Jewish.

But, more, it is about what “humanity” can do to humanity if we — you and I — allow it.

I don’t claim to be Jewish, although most of my paternal ancestors were Jewish.

As a matter of fact, the earliest de Wind documented in my family tree is not even a de Wind, but rather a Levy — my great-great-grandfather, Alexander Levy, who was born around 1765 in The Hague (then, ‘s-Gravenhage) and assumed the name de Wind in 1811.

What makes the Jewish ancestry in my family more poignant to me is that, among the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during the war in Europe, there were approximately one hundred de Winds — this figure includes men who married de Wind women and their children. This may not seem like a large number, until one realizes that the name de Wind is quite an uncommon family name in the Netherlands; that virtually all the de Winds in the Netherlands have common roots; and that the number 100 represents a significant proportion of an entire de Wind generation.

The names of these de Winds can be found at the unique and powerful “Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands,” a virtual monument dedicated to preserving the memory of all the men, women and children who were persecuted as Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and who did not survive the Holocaust, the Shoah.

2014-01-27-digitalmuseum.pngDigital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands. Courtesy

In the “de Wind list” at the Monument, one can find the birthplaces and the ages of most of the victims — some as old as 92 and some as young as 14. My uncle’s family tree documents several other very young de Wind victims of the Holocaust — one as young as five!

Why am I telling you all this?

Perhaps it is a form of personal catharsis, atonement if you will, for never having taken the time or made the effort to learn more about Jewish history and culture, about the Jewish religion, and about the Jewish suffering.

Nevertheless, there must have always been something in me that periodically reminded me of my Jewish background, of my admiration for the Jewish people, of my empathy for their suffering.

That “something” clearly tore at my heart when I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland many years ago. I will never forget the mountain of shoes in one room, the mountain of eyeglasses in another, the mountain of prostheses, the crumbling chimneys of the crematorium, the now-rusting, yet still sinister railroad tracks…

It infuriated me to no end and shook me to the core when I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. and saw the repugnant photographs and film clips depicting some of the Nazi atrocities.

It saddened me deeply when I first accessed the “Digital Museum” and realized that every tiny dot on a screen filled with a dizzying pattern of what appear to be a million colored dots, stands for a human being murdered by the Nazis. The colors indicate “whether the person was a man (blue) or woman (red), a boy or girl between six and 21 years of age (green and yellow, respectively) or a child under 6 years of age (light blue or pink).” The abundance of light blue or pink dots is incomprehensible and almost unbearable.

Finally, I cringe when I read or hear those infamous, almost obscene names: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka, and Belzec.

And I cringed when I came across an article in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad titled “Telling the story of the ‘Dutch Auschwitz‘”

But something softened the impact of seeing that heinous name again — albeit it only lasted for a fleeting moment.

Perhaps it was the accompanying photograph of a blissful, peaceful, country path bordered on both sides by tall pine trees.

The path is described in the article as a “reflection lane,” a path that roughly coincides with a path previously known as the “Himmelfahrtstrasse,” or road to heaven.

Even the destination of the path sounds benign enough. It leads to Stara Kolonia Sobibór, “a typical Polish hamlet, where clean washing flutters in the wind, farmers on old tractors rumble by and lumbermen lug tree trunks.”

To be frank, I do not remember having heard of a place called Sobibor, located deep in the forests in the Lublin district of South-Eastern Poland.

But, had I paid more attention to my Jewish heritage, I would have known that, in 1942 and 1943, this idyllic looking “road to heaven” led to the five gas chambers of the Nazi death camp named Sobibor.

Gas chambers where about 250,000 Jewish men, women and children were systematically exterminated — more than 34,000 of them Dutch.

To be more exact:

34.313 Dutch Jews, distributed over 19 trains, were transported from the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands to Sobibor in Eastern Poland. Of these, only 18 survived and returned to Holland after the Second World War.

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Railroad tracks at Sobibor death camp, circa 2007. Photo by Jacques Lahitte

 

Had I been more attentive, I would have noticed at the Digital Monument a dozen or so de Winds whose lives ended tragically at Sobibor.

According to some reports, only about 50 prisoners survived their imprisonment at Sobibor and the war.

The Sobibor death camp was one of the Nazis’ best-kept secrets. Even in the Netherlands, the existence and the history of Sobibor were not widely known.

Today, only a few austere monuments and plaques memorialize what happened at Sobibor.

Perhaps the most emotive is the “hill of ashes” at the place where the bodies from the gas chambers were burnt on grates in the open air.

A visitor to Sobibor writes:

It is a mound of human ashes. Pain, shock, horror, and disbelief all hit me as soon as I saw the mound. Tears ran down the sides of my face. The mound was huge! The realization that these were the ashes and bone shards of people, hit me very hard.

It is difficult to know exactly what percentage of the de Winds living in the Netherlands during World War II were murdered by the Nazis — I mentioned “a significant proportion.”

However, there is not much uncertainty when it comes to the overall Dutch Jewish population: Out of 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands at the outbreak of the war, some 107,000 Jews were deported to death camps, and between 102,000 and 104,000 were murdered, or approximately 74 percent–the highest percentage among Western European countries.

What an unspeakable human tragedy for one of Europe’s smallest nations!

But the tragedy is much worse.

Over the weekend, the New York Times discussed a “book,” 1250 pages long, that “consists of the single word ‘Jew,’ in tiny type, printed six million times to signify the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust.”

The “book” may be controversial, but there is nothing controversial about the human beings represented by every word in the book — they were just someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, etc. cruelly eliminated by the Nazis seeking the “Final Solution.”

The author of the book, Phil Chernofsky, tells the Times:

Now get closer, put on your reading glasses, and pick a “Jew.” That Jew could be you. Next to him is your brother. Oh, look, your uncles and aunts and cousins and your whole extended family. A row, a line, those are your classmates. Now you get lost in a kind of meditative state where you look at one word, “Jew,” you look at one Jew, you focus on it and then your mind starts to go because who is he, where did he live, what did he want to do when he grew up?

version of this story appeared at The Moderate Voice in May 2009.

Lead image, “Road to Heaven,” by Jacques Lahitte

References:

1. Alonson, Stéphane “Telling the story of the ‘Dutch Auschwitz’” NRC Handelsblad 30 April 2009

2. “Sobibor: An Overview

 

 

 
 

2013-14 My Christmas….Epiphany thoughts

I am thinking that what my family and close ones share at this time comes simply from the birth of a child.  

And yet, such a simple thing makes a whole difference to my world and gives a sense and beauty and meaning to every particle of my existence

The essence of what makes me the person who I am and the very substance which nourishes my spiritual growth lies in the mystery of the child, that as I grow older in life, I am magnetically drawn to love him and surrender to his love and care.Image

So we are sharing, at this time, what we hold as most precious, we are sharing it with you whom we love, we are sharing a mystery of our spirituality, our love with you. 

 

Simply this, simply so. May all be at peace, may every creature be blessed, May all wars and strives be ended, may Love alone prevail. This is my wish.

(December 24th 2013)

 

 

Fifty-seven years

Today the 10th October marks fifty-seven years since I left my hometown in Trinidad and moved to Montreal.

Yesterday I was remembering the morning where we left home with my mother, my eldest sitser Anita, and I think it was my brother Noel who drove us. As the car got to the corner I saw my father standing waiting on his taxi to go to work and we waved good bye to one another. It was the last time I saw him as he passed away some 3 years later. Come to think of it, none of the family from that scene are in the earth plane anymore. My brother Noel died the following year from jaundice and then my dad and many years later my mom and my eldest sister Anita passed away just about one year now.

I can still remember saying farewell to my mom and then realising how I loved her and how hard it was to separate myself and as a matter of fact my sister separated us and I hurried off to the gates. It’s been fifty-seven years but  the mind does not forget  some things although many others are lost.  I remember sitting in the plane and as the motors reved up and we took off, the gut feeling that was tearing away at my heart as I fought to restrain from tears.

Many things have passed since then and sometimes I think, “oh if I did not do this”, or “if maybe I did that, my life could be so different”. But really, there is, at this stage, no real regret as I have come to realize that most of the time, especially when we searched our conscience and acted, there was no ‘wrong decision’ but rather it was something we had to do. One may call it ‘destiny’ but I dont, I just figure we did, in conscience, what we had to do.

I like the passage of St Paul: “When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” I Cor. xiii. 11.  He said when he ‘became a man’.  Something to reflect on as really, when does one ‘become a man’?   With the knowledge I have today, I think there are things I would not do.  I got into trouble once as I said that publicly and someone (un consciously or not) omitted the part which I said “with what I know today” and they made a real commotion about it.

I think I am not alone as many people do not regret choices they made in life but feel somehow if ‘only they had known the consequences,’ they would not have made those choices! I am happy I followed my intuition or whatever and came to Canada. I am happy in this country and do not regret ever making this my home! I have thoughts of other things and decisions and choices I made whilst here and thats what I think about sometimes.  I really like what Shakespeare said that ‘this world’s a stage and we are all actors’. I think of that a lot and try to take my roll serious while at the same time telling myself ‘Its just a roll”.  It’s like standing aside and watching ones self as the roll is played. I think i spoke about that before but even if I did, so what? Just talking about it again, seems to drive the message home.

I really never got a chnace to thank Shakespeare for this teaching and I do so now. This reminds me that there was another person who left his mark on the world, he was a famous painter and I totally disagree with one of his most famous paintings. Am sorry Michaelangelo but I feel you somehow lacked imagination when you did a painting of God creating Adam. Ah come on man, you painted God as an old man! Wake up Mike! If God is God, why would he ever become old? And to think the Pope of his day who allowed him to leave that monstrosity  in the chapel for generations to come. I sincerely hope, either it will fade away completely or other people’s eyes may open and see that Mike, comeone a little imagination and try maybe drawing God as Light.

But then, you were as you were in those days and Popes were really never infallible even though some may have pretended to be. And the art work in places like the Sistine Chapel are still there to say something just like most of the stuff people do in life to entertain.  I want to think that in years to come when I look back at my life, it was not lived without serving others and I made the smallest thing to make this life here at least a little better for others.

I remember once at a talk given in Ottawa by the Dalai Lama, someone asked him to teach them meditation and he said “teach you meditation? Every day sit for a while and ask yourself, what can you do to make this world a little better place for others?”

So although I did not ask the Dalai Lama the question, I think his response a good advice for the rest of my life. Thank you so much for walking with me a while today!

In These Times (Part 2)

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The Crucifix of St Damien from which Francis heard the voice telling him to go and repair ‘my house which is falling in ruin”
It was Leonardo Boff in his book “St. Francis: a Model for Human Liberation”  said:

The Church carries within itself constant tension; it proclaims what can never be put into practice, the utopia of the kingdom and radical fraternity amoung the people. It was precisely these values that Francis lived: the man of the Gospel, sincere, simple and authentic, but radical to the greatest degree, which always allowed him to be obedient to the church of tradition as well as to the church of the poor.
 
What is the “Church” of which Pope Francis 1st is the leader?
 
Which “Church” he speaks of when he said that he wants the “Church” to be poor?
 
Without a doubt he is speaking of the Church of Rome but at the same time, maybe he is not forgetting the growing wealth of the other “Church” in South America.
 
(Vatican 2. Lumen Gentium. People of God)
15. “The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (14*) For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (15*) They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.(16*) They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. “
 
 
 
It is said that “Brazil’s evangelical churches are now deeply embedded in the country’s culture. Huge temples modeled on Solomon’s in Jerusalem are being erected in Brazilian cities. One Pentecostal church already owns the country’s second biggest television broadcaster. In the Congress in Brasília, the so-called ‘evangelical caucus’ is courted by the ruling Workers’ Party, to the dismay of many of its activists.”
 At the moment that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has become the face of Catholicism in the Southern Hemisphere and the world, his own country is becoming far less religious. Only about 25% of Argentines regularly attend church.
Many Catholics have stopped attending the Catholic Church and now attend some of the protestant Evangelical Churches.
From these churches flow the “prosperity theology” and somehow it has its effect on all Christians.
 

“The Neo-Pentecostal movement has been characterized in part by an emphasis on prosperity theology, which gained greater acceptance within charismatic Christianity during the late 1990s. By 2006, three of the four largest congregations in the United States were teaching prosperity theology, and Joel Osteen has been credited with spreading it outside of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement through his books, which have sold over 4 million copies.”

Because most prosperity churches are non-denominational and eschew traditional Presbyterian polity and church hierarchies, where the pastor or preacher is accountable to a council of elders or an otherwise higher church authority, this allows prosperity churches to make their charismatic pastors the sole authority and the one person between parishioners and God.

This attribute of most prosperity churches has led to controversy, as some prominent ministers like Creflo Dollar openly flaunt their religiously-acquired wealth. Dollar, founder and head of the World Changers Church International, reportedly owns a few Rolls Royces, private jets, a million dollar home in Atlanta and a $2.5 million home in New York City. This seems only to affirm the power of the teachings, resulting in a flood of donations. From the New York Times: “According to church officials, the New York church collects an average of $345,000 a month, which works out to more than $4 million annually; the Atlanta church’s operating budget is $80 million a year.”

The model of St Francis of Assisi upsets the cart.

 
Thus the spirit of the world is jealous and tries to find things to say to condemn Pope Francis 1st.
 
The spirit of this world is an unforgiving one. On the pretext of “Justice”, there is no forgiveness. and when there is no sin, one has to be found until no one is left innocent and the spirit of world can go back to its dirty games.
 
Ever since the beginning of the very foundation of the Church, the world willingly forgets that Peter was not without fault and that he even said three times “I do not know the man!”   Yet he was forgiven and became the leader.  Also Paul who persecuted and dragged Christians to their death, was forgiven and he too became a leader.
 
So who are we to point fingers to a man who asks pardon and asks for prayers and shows a humilty in a role that we have not seen the like in centuries.
 
And so we join with St Francis the prayer he used as he knelt before the crucifix of St Damien:

 Most high glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart.

Give me right faith, certain hope and perfect charity, insight and wisdom, so I can always observe your holy and true command. 

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In These Times March 2013 (part 1)

 

St Francis of Assisi:   A Saint for all at all times
 
 
 
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4:18 AM EDT
 
 
Painting by Aidan Hart
 
“After a pilgrimage to Rome, where he joined the poor in begging at the doors of local churches, St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) said that he had a mystical vision of Jesus in the country chapel of San Damiano, just outside of Assisi, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified said to him, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” 

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” 
(Stuart Chase)

 
Pope Francis
Pope Francis says he took his papal name after St Francis of Assisi, ‘the man of the poor’. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Francis described on Saturday how he was inspired to take the name of Saint Francis of Assisi by the importance of helping the poor.

At his first press conference in the Vatican, Pope Francis broke from his prepared comments to describe the final hours of the conclave that elected him pope. He said: “Let me tell you a story.”

Francis said he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as it appeared the voting was favouring him and it seemed “a bit dangerous” that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected.

“He hugged me. He kissed me. He said don’t forget about the poor,” Francis recalled. “And that’s how in my heart came the name Francis of Assisi.”

He said some people have asked why he took the name, Francis, since it also could suggest references to other figures including the co-founder of the pope’s Jesuit order, Francis Xavier. But he said his intention came to his heart as an inspiration immediately after the election. St. Francis of Assisi, the pope said, was “the man of the poor. The man of peace. The man who loved and cared for creation and in this moment we don’t have such a great relationship with the creator. The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man who wanted a poor church.” (World News The Guardian. 16th March 2013)

These are the headline news these days as we listen and witness history unfolding before our very eyes.  I wonder how many of us realize the seriousness of the moment. How many of us realize the beauty. It certainly re-awakens thoughts and reflections about the Poverello, St Francis of Assisi whose name is staged and talked about. 

I would like to pause here and allow the reader to take time and think of what we do know of St Francis of Assisi, and myself, I would like to pray and reflect before writing the second half.

http://youtu.be/VO2cQ0pepI4

A Franciscan Surfer

 

Genesis 1:2 – King James Bible Online

And the earth was waste and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

 
A story of a Franciscan friar.
It has been years ago but I will allways remember. I was sent to attend an International Conference on Worl Peace which was held in Melbourne Australia. The Conference lasted about a week or so and at the end i was advised to stay and take my tow weeks annual holiday as i may never get the chance to visit there again. I stayed for a while in one particular  Franciscan house which was but a few minutes from a beach and so every morning after prayers I would go for a walk on the beach before breakfast.
I noticed very often one of the young brothers would come down with surf board and take off onto the waves. I stood in admiration as he so skillfully rode the waves. Sometimes when he was coming back I would chat and we became friends.
One morning he asked if he could talk with me. He said he ahd to go for a retreat in another house and his spiritual master hd told him. “You will leave your surf board behind”!
He was very sad because of this and I said, “well its only a week and when you come back it will still be here”.
He looked at me and said “brother you dont understand, that board is my prayer book. Its like telling me to leave my breviary behind.”
He began to explain to me, “when I am out there on the surf, its my best prayer. It is there where I enter into communion with God. When I am riding a wave, through my feet I can feel the power of God’s energy
flowing through the water. As long as I feel that and stay connected in my prayer, the sea supports me and carries me and I never fall. This is my prayer because it is not something just intellectual, it is a communion of my very soul with God’s Spirit”
At that moment I thought of St Francis and his love of nature and how he praised God:
Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor
And all blessing.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy
To pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.

How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright
And precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
By which you cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious, and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful he is, how gay! Full of power and strength.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon
For love of you; through those who endure
Sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
By you, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin

Happy those She finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

–St. Francis of Assisi

 

The Best Barrel Surfing on You Tube - YouTube

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk0Gf08xsmM
Nov 26, 2009 – Uploaded by sheltonjon

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The Detailed Universe

Video

The space of our mind at times cries out for space to which it belongs, to clean away the dust and cobwebs of human clutter. To find again the space of infinity from which it came and the light to which it shall return. And so we meditate and go beyond the mind, to the heart of the Heart that dwells within….in silence.