Published July 22, 2013
How much will the eBay auction of an historical, original Schindler’s list go for? What is it really worth? And where does that document belong?
There is no word in Hebrew for history. For us Jews it has never been about documents or statistics, rather the commandment -- Zachor -- Remember!
‘Remember the Sabbath,’ 'remember you were once slaves in Egypt,' ‘remember Amalek’, whose murderous attacks on the Israelites in the desert would inspire anti-Semitic genociders from Persia’s Haman to Germany’s Hitler.
But remembering the Holocaust is a daunting challenge. The numbers are mind numbing -- 6 million Jews killed, among them 1.5 million children. Entire communities annihilated -- entire extended families wiped out, virtually without a trace.
Stalin, one of history’s most vicious mass murderers was right when he said: One death is a tragedy, a million deaths -- a statistic.
But for Holocaust survivors, for us and for generations yet to be born, the challenge is how to keep alive the flickering embers of memory of the Nazis’ victims that erode with the passage of time.
I recall the tears of joy of a child of a Holocaust survivor, after I handed him a copy of his father’s 1938 Nazi "Fragebogen," a questionnaire that every Austrian Jew was forced to accurately complete -- under penalty of being sent to a concentration camp -- and list their every belonging, down to their Sabbath candlesticks.
Soon after everything would be confiscated. His father would be counted among the 6 million.
“So why the tears of joy,” I asked.
“Because, at least now, I now have one thing of my father’s that was uniquely his—his signature”…
I learned that day that even a yellowing document, even a fading word hurriedly penned by a Jew under gunpoint of the Devil himself, can help us connect to the image of a real person.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance has hosted over 5 million visitors. We rely heavily on high-tech exhibitory and historical timelines to guide our visitors. But it is still real documents from the past that instill the resolve to remember:
- The 1940 pen pal letters between Anne and Margo Frank that draw tears from people of all ages who read Anne’s diary.
- The 1932 handwritten note by Albert Einstein who reflected on the importance of tolerance in a world increasingly bereft of it.
- The 1919 letter typed and personally signed by Adolph Hitler confirming his desire to do away with the Jews -- 20 years before he unleashed history’s most devastating war and genocide.
- The first memo from a skeletal Holocaust survivor, who though still too weak to walk, refused to forget, and dictated the names of Nazi war criminals just days after Simon Wiesenthal was liberated by American soldiers in May 1945.
So how much is an original Schindler’s list worth?
I don’t know. You can’t put a price tag on memory. But whether it goes for $1 or $3 million, I beseech the new owner, not to lock it up in a vault. Its pedagogical value is beyond priceless.
Everyone who learns the lessons from that document, whether at the Museum of Tolerance, University, or in a public library, will become a bridge to the past and a guardian for the memory of 6 million innocent people who were abandoned by an uncaring world. And they will be inspired by those few heroes like Oskar Schindler, who kept hope alive -- then, now and for generations to come.