Leon Trahtemberg’s participation in the panel preceding the film «The Last Days» Directed by James Moll and Produced by Steven Spielberg on 15/8/2000 at the Cultural Center, Catholic University, Lima, Peru.
Last week I had the opportunity to see the film «The Last Days», which will be shown to you shortly, since I wanted my participation in this panel to be inspired by the impact of this very film. I felt that Moll and Spielberg had achieved something fascinating, by utilizing the A-B-C of Pedagogy; namely, beginning with the specifics, the story of the lives of 5 real survivors, in order to enable the audience to imagine the entirety of the genocide. And I think they had amply carried out their intention.
This movie connects the audience with the horrors of the Holocaust, with sufficient documentary images that enable us to relate to the real magnitude of the facts, but leaving a sufficient amount of reasoning space in order to follow closely the testimonies and the questions the protagonists pose themselves.
It is a movie that reveals the terrors and horrors of the Holocaust, but is at the same time very human, since it descends to the survivors’ world of emotions, enabling us to get acquainted with their reasons and the origins of their power to continue living. The most powerful statement is probably the one of that lady who tells us that living to see grandchildren of her descendance, counts to her as the return to life.
It is an extremely familiar movie because it depicts the city, the parents, sisters and brothers, the neighbors, the grocer, the teacher, the policeman, the Mayor, the driver, most of which from one day to another renounced their friendship and cordiality to Jews, in order to become their cruel enemies. The tricks life plays on us! To see one’s best friend become his worst enemy!
It is a didactic movie. It teaches people the facts and helps them contemplate those facts. It also teaches not to mess with evil and impunity.
I remember participating once in a lecture on the Holocaust when one of the listeners asked me: Why do you keep mentioning the Holocaust time and time again? Why not forgive and forget? Why this need for a vengeance? I answered him that this is not a case of vengeance, even though I would understand it if it were. It is a question of justice. When a delinquent commits a crime society sanctions him, not for a vengeance, but for the sake of justice, since people have to pay for the consequences of their actions. Each time we remember the Holocaust we do justice with the innocent victims. However, there are other reasons to remember.
We remember the Holocaust because the deceased deserve from us at least a Kaddish (a prayer for the dead). The nazi plan was to condone the deceased Jews to anonymity in the unburied ashes. To honor their memory is an act of justice, which allows the recovering a name, a family name and an identity to each one of the victims, and that requires remembering.
We remember the Holocaust because by doing so we touch the most obscure parts of the history of humanity and of man, who throughout time has harassed and pursued he who is different, has seeked to force minorities to yield or to eliminate them, who was intolerant with those who think differently.
We remember the Holocaust because we cannot accept the theory that maintains that in order for some to live well, others have to die.
We remember the Holocaust because that is our contribution to humanity. If the victims do not remember, the victimizers themselves will not remember either. The victims of Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Videla, Abimael Guzman, and presently the sufferers of the AMIA are the ones who need to remember if they wish to obtain justice and prevention.
The victims of Hitler have to remember, because the Nazis shall do all in their power to distort, forget and make others forget.
We remember the Holocaust since it has a major preventive value: without this episode the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would not have been forged in 1948, which not coincidentally is also the year in which the state of Israel was born.
We remember the Holocaust in order to do justice with graceful people like Raoul Wallenberg, who risked his position as a Swiss diplomat as well as his own life in order to help his fellow Jews in distress, managing to save tens of thousands of human lives, and leaving as an historic testimony what one can achieve against adversity when principles, as opposed to conveniences, prevail.
We remember the Holocaust, because in this way we shake the conscience of Christians and members of other religions, who revised their relations with the Jewish people after observing the tragedies created by religious intolerance.
We remember the Holocaust because it has not yet ended. Neonazism, the legitimate son of Nazism, is lifting its head up and marching forth while taking advantage of oblivion and indifference.
We remember the Holocaust in order to continue asking the questions that do not have an answer, as with the Hungarian survivor you will see in the film who asks himself why did Hitler, while already knowing he was loosing the war, continue to lead astray trains, officials and munitions in order to accelerate the deportation of Hungarian Jews who were not yet sent to Auschwitz.
We remember the Holocaust because by doing so, we give the survivors who reconstructed their lives a reason to live. Because it endows a history and a memory to each and every son and grandson of the survivors’ second marriage, to whom having descendants has become their life mission, an expression of loyalty to the deceased, and a rebellious and dignified answer to the Nazi plan.
Personally, I remember the Holocaust because I was there. Because I am each and every one of the deceased, and each and every one of the survivors. If Hitler and the Nazis would have completed their plan, I would not be here today. When a survivor tells about loosing his family, how in front of his very eyes they snatched away his children in order to annihilate them, I think of my children. Also my children were there. I was there. We were there. We are remembering ourselves.