Monday, February 7, 2011

Repairing Auschwitz !

This week there was a picture of the ruins of today’s concentration camp and an article about the millions of dollars it would take to repair it – to be a museum, of course. Even then, it typically opens a several sided discussion. We had a young rabbi join the local Rotary and immediately set to work to get a local survivor of a concentration camp to make a talk. He opened his talk with, “I don’t know why you would want to hear about this.” His dubiousness was understandable; anyone who knows about post traumatic stress knows how dreaded is the trigger setting the flashbacks off. Then there was Ronald Reagan speaking in Germany and claiming to have visited Auschwitz. The hoots were tremendous: Auschwitz was still behind the Iron Curtain. As anyone with PTSD will assure you though – or getting older, for that matter – anyone’s memory can cut itself a bit of slack, whether or not the public relations people rubber stamps it. Grasping the Holocaust, however, is an important experience. A group of candidates for the doctor of ministry degree I once led did go to Dachau, with Annelie as our guide. It was both gut-wrenching and brain expanding, as intended.
It is this “both” that is so important to grasp when we think of the horrendous. Out of a concentration came a young Jewish doctor, Victor Frankl. He survived by imaging the lectures he was going to give after the war on the concentration camp experience. Prior to Frankl psychotherapy was almost completely in the Freudian model: patient on the couch, doctor with a notepad seated behind. The patient focused on his problem by exploring the past, particularly his childhood and relationship to his mother. With Frankl, the issue was reality and this moment in time, of finding meaning and purpose in that. It was the beginning of a person to person relationship for the therapeutic process, a searching for our humanity in a richer form.
Victor Frankl once came to the Pacific School of Religion to give a lecture. Dr. Leslie, the professor of pastoral care, graciously introduced him to his secretary, Claire. I later came to know her when I was the teaching assistant in that department. Claire was one of those middle aged women who sit behind a desk with a door open to all and managing it all. Her every day was, “Where can I,” “I really need you to,” “I can’t,” in an endless parade, punctuated by “pleeze.”
When Dr. Frankl – famous author, renounced death camp survivor – met Claire, she stretched out her hand to shake his. This gracious European gentleman bowed deeply and kissed her hand. Every time she re-told that story the radiance spread all over.
Wouldn’t it be great if you and I, with all our struggles, could be a son or daughter of Abraham just like that?

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