Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembrance Day Ramblings

Remembrance Day was on November 11, as always. Rachel and I made a little poppy out of scrap paper, wrote 'soldiers' on it, and put it on our Thankful Tree. I forgot that I brought poppy pins with me; I found them today when Rachel and I went to do our hair. I've worn a poppy every year since I can remember and this year I forgot.

Luckily, I don't need a poppy to remember.

We went to the CSA Library and got some books about monkeys for Rachel and A Thread of Grace for me.

As gruesome as the Holocaust was, it's always been intriguing for me. I actually like the whole wartime scene. I love the Andrew's Sisters. They're one of my favorite music groups. I love literature about the era. I love the music and the clothing and just about everything.

Except the war.

It would have been a great era without that big smear!

History can't change though, so I embrace the war as well. I love to read stories of struggle and survival. I don't know if this book ends with survival yet or not. I'm not that far. But so far I am liking it.

I find it interesting to be reading about the race laws--somehow Hitler convinced a large chunk of the world that Jews were a separate and undesirable race. Neighbours turned against neighbours, friends against friends. All because someone said they were superior. All because someone said they were inferior.

As I've mentioned before, we have ancestors on both sides of the conflict. Technically just Andrew does; my ancestors were Swiss--famous for their neutrality--which is probably why I am as indecisive as I am today. Thank you genetics!

The war was long and awful. The Holocaust was a nightmare. My Grandma Conrad's brother Leo fought in the war. I believe he helped open a concentration camp towards the end. He rarely talked about his experience and turned away from God; he didn't understand how God could let this happen. Several years ago he was flown to Austria, I believe, to participate in a Remembrance Day of sorts over there. He did not enjoy himself. He was too flooded with horrible memories to be able to enjoy himself or trust God.

He was fun enough, though. He came to visit us once after my family had moved to Utah. He kept making me do things for him saying he was too "old and decrepitated" to do them himself. I really wanted to interview him about his experiences in the war, but as I said he didn't like to talk about them.

He died the next year and that opportunity was gone forever. It would be interesting to know more about the role he played.

Sometimes I have terrible nightmares. If Uncle Leo dreams anything similar to how I dream, it is no small wonder he didn't like to talk about his experiences.

I've never experienced war firsthand, but a few years ago I had a terrible nightmare, involving monkeys. It was a horrible dream. Some strange sect had taken over the government and were conducting raids and killing people at random. They all had monkey hats on their heads.

(My little brother is afraid of monkeys. If this is the same dream he had, I totally understand how that could be.)

My whole family was hiding in the bathroom by the laundry room in my parent's house. More precisely we were all hiding in the shower--it's a pretty big shower but I still don't know how we all fit inside.

We could hear people yelling and screaming and running in the street, but we couldn't see what was going on because the only window in the bathroom faced the backyard and not the street. I was sent out to see what was going on. I crept out to the living room and peeked outside.

The riots in the street were terrifying. Men I didn't recognize were swarming all around, holding up bloody hatchets, knives, and swords. One blood-covered sword was hoisted high in the air. On the tip was a little stuffed monkey, completely gutted through by the sword, dancing above the angry mob, looking very out of place and not the least bit comforting.

It was the same monkey that my little brother had always been so terrified of...and which mysteriously went "missing," probably so that we, the older kids, would quit taunting him with it.

I don't remember at what point I woke up, but I still remember how petrified I was when I did.

Earlier this year, Andrew suggested we watch Hotel Rwanda, which was an amazing movie but scared the living daylights out of me. I was so shocked to see, in the movie, a teddy bear dancing on the blood-drenched sword of a young man. Truthfully the movie terrified me, but it also spoke to me, and, as I did with the Holocaust in years past, I got a little obsessed.

I will admit that I still have scenes from the movie pop into my head, especially with all the road blocks here, and the military police lolling off to sleep, resting their foreheads on their rifles. I feel as nervous as Annemarie and Ellen from Number the Stars when I walk past them, when really I know that the likelihood of that happening here isn't very big. Even though that is happening now in both the Congo and Sudan doesn't mean it will happen here, right? Right? RIGHT? I tell myself I am right so that I don't sprint past the guards. Besides they like to wave at Rachel.

Soon after watching the movie I devoured Rusesabagina's autobiography, the details of which chilled me to the bone.

I still don't understand how people can hate so passionately, so blindly, so hungrily.

There isn't much I, as one person, can do to stop the wars. But I believe that I don't have to fuel the hate. I don't have to hate.

Jews are equally human as Christians. Muslims are equally human as Jews.

It was wrong for Hitler's Nazis to target Jews, to paint them as an inferior "race." It is just as wrong for Israel to maltreat the Palestinians living throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is just as wrong for America to call Muslims and Arabs terrorists.

It was wrong to divide the Rwandan people into the "races" of Tutsi and Hutu. It was wrong to place one "race" above another.

I think it is interesting that we have so many sayings pleading us to "remember."

Each year I celebrate Remembrance Day, honoring the soldier who fought for my freedom, and the freedom of others. But I, myself, hold no memories of WWII. They are all just stories, and I think they need to be told, but I think we need to spend a little more time focusing on recent events as well.

We remember so that we don't let it happen again. And yet we are letting it happen again. We let it happen again over and over.

Rwanda's genocide is being repeated in the Congo--the same "racial" conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. It makes me sad when I read about it in the news because Rusesabagina's story gave me so much hope. There is so little I can do. How can I make the world respond? How should the world respond? Do people that angry stop for anything?

I see so many people angry at Muslims and Arabs and that also makes me sad. I feel that hate is propagating in America as I speak. So many people are afraid of Arabs and Muslims, thinking they are all terrorists and want to destroy America. And that just isn't true, but it sure does make it easier on our conscience to think that when we bomb them.

And I think it's ironic that Jane Goodall mentioned in one of Rachel's monkey books, that "these amazing creatures [chimpanzees]...are so nearly human" when the human race has trouble enough accepting its own as human.

I like Remembrance Day--I enjoy celebrating my freedom and honoring the brave solidiers who fought for it--but it makes me sad to remember all the wars and hatred alive in the world today.

And that's what I thought in my minute of silence at 11:00 AM on November 11th. Lest we forget, lest we forget.


  1. We are doomed to repeat history over and over until we can learn from it. And not just the facts, but to learn to overcome the hate, anger, and pride that comes with every war, be it small or large. There are 5 or 6 duplex townhomes that are in our couldesac (we live in one of them) and the rest are filled with people from I'm guessing the middle east who are all going to pilot school. Honestly, I could care less where they were from. As far as I know, they're good people looking to make a living, same as me. Everyone in my neighborhood doesn't fell the same though and that makes me sad. People are people, and yes, there are some horrible people who probably need to be killed, but it doesn't mean that everyone from their country is just like them. sorry this is so long. I liked your post. BTW what are poppy pins?

  2. Beautifully put, Nancy. You are so articulate. Thank you.

  3. I agree with your mom, Nancy. You are very articulate and I appreciate that. You are a wonderful writer and this piece moved me. I've always had a very difficult time with the Holocaust era, for personal reasons, but found your post rather intriguing. Thanks for sharing it with me.

  4. In Flanders' fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row, that mark our place...

    WWI and WWII have always been fascinating periods of history for me as well, though I tend not to get quite so obsessed. They are hard for me to deal with, so I have to remember them in different ways. But I appreciate it when people can articulate what I feel so I don't have to provide the detail myself. You're good at that. :)

  5. @Bethany--Poppy pins are sold by the Canadian Legion every year around Remembrance Day. You can learn about them here, here, or here. Or here or here, because what would an answer be without a Wikipedia link?

    Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day by wearing the poppy, a symbol of the sacrifice of the soldiers. My cousin(-ish) Heidi referenced the poem In Flanders' Fields. It's one of my favorites. I think every Canadian school child memorizes it--it's basically required curriculum. And a beautiful poem.

    When we were in elementary school we'd bring our quarter to school (more of a donation than an actual purchase) and then our teachers would hand out the poppies right before the remembrance day ceremony/assembly so that we wouldn't spend all day poking each other...and...

    This might end up as a whole new post! Imagine that, just a post about poppies. Why not?

  6. You should do it! I passed out poppies to a few Canadians, and quite a few Americans asked about them, thought they were cool, and wanted to have one...

  7. I was sure asked a lot about my poppy (thanks mom). This was a very touching post. I don't remember Leo coming to visit us in Orem. Was I on my mission?

  8. Great Post Nancy, I completely agree with everyone's comments. You are great at articulating your thoughts, and I appreciate it. Rusesabagina actually came and spoke at a BYU devotional near the end up last semester and it was very powerful to hear him speak in person. I watched Hotel Rwanda the night before and the two things together were very powerful.

    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  9. My girls go to the British International School here in Maadi and the poppies were on sale as usual at this time of year. I don't think my girls understand why they wear the poppies, but they sure love getting the dirty 1 pound notes from me and putting them in the donation jar at school so they can come home with a cute little poppy pinned to their lapel!

  10. Beautifully written. Good hard questions.