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Sunday, November 1, 2015


There are memories from childhood which are so vivid that when I recount them and find my audience is unable to remember, it pisses me off. It is strange, probably, but it is almost as if that was such a poignant moment in my life, it feels either wasted or less relevant if I cannot share it with someone who was there. Of the many memories from decades ago which seem to live in my mind as a near perfect reel, the one that not only continues to haunt me but seems to have most defined me as a person was in May of 1985. The memory is only mine. My whole family was there and none of them seemed to have experienced it so profoundly as to even remember it with me.

I have relayed this story a lot lately. I was only diagnosed with a panic disorder last year. The fact that it took 41 years to find that diagnosis is, to say the very least, peculiar. My first memory of an attack, of sort, was when I was 12. I was in the living room waiting for the Disney movie to come on (we didn't have on-demand back in the day and were offered a single helping of Disney once a week). I went in to the living room after dinner and whatever was on the television when I turned it on was so upsetting to me that by the time the rest of the family came in to sit down for our Sunday evening entertainment, I was bawling. My dad was angry, as I recall (although I now realize that a lot of his emotions seemed like anger to me then and he was probably frustrated by this child he could not understand), and demanded, "What are you crying about?" I pointed to the black and white footage on the television of a large pit with naked skin-and-bone bodies being bulldozed on top of one another into it.

I had no idea what I was looking at. My fathers curt reply to my response, "What is that?" was a quick, "That is from the Holocaust." I had no idea what the Holocaust was and my plea for him to explain it warranted a, "If you don't want to look at it turn it off." I could not stop crying and as my father was then angry with me for having been upset, my sob turned into that mess where you can't even catch your breath. I set myself off to bed rather than ruin the family's evening with Disney.

I did not sleep that entire night.

The few minutes of footage that I had seen of this film terrified me. It had a name. My father gave it a name. It is called a Holocaust. That means it is a thing that exists in the world. Those people who had families and friends had somehow come to a place in their lives where this was their end. And it had a name. And it existed.

My father checked on me several times that night to see if I had settled down. I was eventually able to stop crying but I had not been able to stop thinking about it and worrying about those people and wondering what you have to do to end up in a place like that. I wanted to protect all of my loved ones from having to die like that. I simply could not grasp the fact that this Holocaust existed. And it must have been a common event or my father wouldn't have explained it to me so casually. The world was terrifying to me in a way that it had never been before (and I had also recently had similar, but not as overwhelming revelations about slavery in history class and children being kidnapped by the movie Adam).

Of course, my fathers quick dismissal didn't mean that the Holocaust was a common occurrence in the world. It only meant that my father saw everything as a matter of fact and had no capacity to deliver information in a way that would be specific to this very sensitive audience. I have been 30 years now on this path to understand the Holocaust. I watch every documentary that I ever learn about. I have read many books. I can now rationalize that neither the next movie nor book will offer me the light bulb to make it all make sense to me. But I can also understand with age and historical context that this was a very specific moment in a very ugly time in World history which is quite singular in its evil and circumstance.

Today I spent the day watching documentaries on Amazon. I happened upon a Frontline video of a documentary they had released about the Holocaust in 1985. I started the movie and thought, 'this could be it.' That would certainly be the year that the memory of my first anxiety attack happened. And I have never been able to tell the story completely because even my own mind always struggled to remember what exactly I had seen. I can now say, without a doubt, that I must have turned the television on after dinner and it would have already been set on PBS.

In 1985, Frontline aired a documentary which had been a project started 40 years prior by a coalition of US and British Army filmmakers. Alfred Hitchcock even participated and refused to take pay for it because of its importance. For reasons unknown (I've found several speculations but nothing seems to have been settled), the film was never finished. In 1985 PBS put the unfinished reels together and left many minutes of completely unnarrated film. It sounds like an unprofessional piece to have not had it completed until many who had been involved were gone and so much was unknown about why the project had been abandoned in the first place. The fact that there are many minutes with no narration certainly seem strange, but that is the strength of the piece. You don't need the words. The entire point of this piece is to document the moment and place in history where humanity had been forfeit.

I can now tell you, having finished this documentary, that the footage at the end is the exact memory I have seen as I retold this story throughout my life. This is the moment in my life where my heart broke and my mind raced and my soul reached out for something to give me understanding of the world. It has haunted me ever since.

After having seen this film in its entirety as an adult, my constant demands that the sonsofbitches on the right who like to compare every aspect of the political world which might not happen to be going their way to the Holocaust must stop is now something more of an insistence. I literally can not abide their hate and conflation of history and propaganda. I can not let it exist.

I beg you to save this on your computer and watch it. It is an hour long and it is probably the most painful thing you can imagine ever seeing. But it is an imperative. We must allow our outrage to equal and exceed their disregard. We must allow our voices to be louder than theirs. There are no words powerful enough to ever explain this film. I feel confident that it would have the same affect if you watched it on mute. Our humanity dissipates a little bit more when we allow this memory to be negated by their drawing unfounded parallels.

Please watch this and shout at the top of your lungs every time Carson, Cruz or Huckabee determine that any perceived slight to their rigid societal standards should be compared to the Holocaust. Every time they get away with this shit, the impact of these truths dissipates a little more. And it creates an environment where we won't see it coming if we ever do find ourselves heading down a similar path.


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