Program Report: Renee Fink – What Can the Holocaust Teach Us Today

When I saw the program was to be delivered by a holocaust survivor I wondered how one of those skeletal figures pictured when the death camps were liberated in 1945 could have survived 70 plus years now and still be giving presentations to students and civic clubs.

So, I was a little surprised when I met Ms. Fink who was clearly younger than that by at least a decade or two.  Minutes into her presentation, however, it was apparent why she and possibly a generation or two after her are also genuine holocaust survivors.

My daughter Steph and granddaughter Maddy came to live with me three years ago now. Maddy is now five and has started kindergarten. I cannot imagine the agony we would feel if it ever got so dangerous here that our best option for her safety was to hand her over to an underground railway to deliver her to an unknown family in another country.

For those that were at the meeting, you know that Ms. Fink’s story was told in four videos that were entitled On the Back of a Stranger’s Bicycle: Renee Fink’s Story. Our time constraints being what they are, she stopped at three videos, but there is a fourth and I urge you to watch it too on-line. If you are reading this on the Club’s website, I’m going to embed the first video on the site so that those who couldn’t attend the meeting can see all four of them in sequence. If you just want to watch the fourth you will see links to all four of them by clicking through and watching them on YouTube. Or you can go to the website where you will find a biography of Ms. Fink and a link to the videos.

The bicycle referenced, by the way, was one she was carried on briefly during her journey to relative safety in Holland and symbolized how many of the children that were saved from the Nazis where moved from one resistance cell to another. The organization of the cells kept them ignorant of one another so no one could reveal the whole network.

Another surprise was that Ms. Fink described the war years as the high point in the overall experience. This in spite of the fact that during the last years of the war when food was very scarce she was living with Catholic members of the resistance as part of their family and called them mother and father. She said that they were often cold, hungry and in hiding but they didn’t know anything else or realize how bad it was. It was after the war and being uprooted again was when the real suffering of uncertainty and rootlessness began.

Apart from the video, Ms. Fink’s presentation was called What Can the Holocaust Teach Us Today?  We might also ask why the warning signs of a repeat go unnoticed? Many of us in the room had fathers who fought the Nazis in World War II, me included. That’s not so long ago, and other genocides large and small have occurred in the interim.

Last Friday I met a young girl in Maddy’s school. She’s a year older but smaller than Maddy. She and her parents are refugees from a country where they were part of a persecuted religious minority. She is still being treated for the malnutrition she suffered.  The compassionate members of a local church are seeing that they have what they need to survive in a strange land that is getting stranger.  I wonder these days whether that compassion will survive in this country when it also requires courage. Do we ask ourselves enough whether we would have the courage to be part of one of those cells hiding children from the authorities that want to get rid of them? A million and a half children did not find their way to safety in Nazi Germany and the territories they occupied. No amount of compassion would have saved them without equal amounts of courage.

The test may be closer than we think. DACA has been revoked. Many of the Dreamers were smuggled here to escape from gang violence and drug wars. Ms. Fink told us that she was too young to remember much about when she was spirited away from the dangers in Germany to Holland before it was occupied. Is sending the Dreamers back to an unknown fate in a country they have no memory of, less cruel than the fate of the children who were caught in Holland? The Dreamers are being told they “will be taken care of” by the man who revoked the Executive Order that created DACA while he simultaneously beefs up ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement organization. It all sounds eerily familiar.

Much of the argument for allowing the Dreamers to stay here is that many, if not most, are now productive citizens, paying taxes, serving in the military, becoming teachers, etc.  True enough, but that makes it all about us. Maybe, a more compelling argument is that we as American citizens could demonstrate our compassion and courage by finding a way to welcome and embrace them, just like members of the Resistance in Holland did for Renee Fink, holocaust survivor.

I couldn’t help but think about this as we recited the 4 Way Test at the end of the meeting.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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