In 1971, I had the opportunity to ride my bicycle around Europe for nine months, staying in youth hostels and cheap hotels. It was a great adventure!
Traveling by bicycle is a wonderful way to meet people; most of them could not have been nicer to me. It was also a way to get “close and personal” to history. At that time, I passed many of the military relics of World War II. These had been left in place as reminders of the lesser side of human nature.
Among the places I visited was the concentration camp in southern Poland known at the time as “Auschwitz”.
When the Allied troops liberated this camp, its German caretakers left in a hurry, leaving behind a place of misery, filled with countless prisoners of the Nazi regime, both alive and dead. The barracks, gas chambers and ovens that obliterated so many lives were left intact. Now the place is a museum to the folly of war and the ideologies that motivate it.
The building that made the strongest impression on me, which endures to this day, is one which contains long tables, each of which supports a huge plexiglas tank. At a distance, I could not make out what the “tanks” contained, but the room was filled with a strange and disturbing odor.
Approaching cautiously, I made the sickening discovery that each tank was filled with human hair!
The heads of all persons brought to the camp at Auschwitz were shaved, and rather than discard the locks, all colors, lengths and styles, were saved for another use. The captors let nothing go to waste.
A long time has passed since World War II, and now I am too old to ride a bicycle more than a short distance. Even so, I would urge all to examine critically what happens when people forget history. Unfortunately, as we have seen in many places, history tends to repeat itself, with horrible results.
The German people chose to be honest and transparent about their Nazi past, and they have been able to build a vital and wealthy nation as a result. Truth and Reconciliation in Rwanda has allowed a strong post colonial society to arise and flourish. There are other examples. None is perfect, but all have taken steps in the right direction.
COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc with people living in all parts of the world. It does not seem to care who we are, what is the color of our skin or what our personal opinions are. No matter the differences, we all descend from the same ancestors. We are all human beings.
As the wise philosopher, Pogo Possum said in the 1970s, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Recently, another wise philosopher, and a person of strong faith observed, “We are all God’s children.” With those in mind, please let us all be princelings of peace in 2021!