Some are guilty, while all are responsible.
—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
From a workshop about writing in the context of The Work That Reconnects, (designed by Joanna Macy) and led by Louise Dunlap, Aravinda Ananda, and Joseph Rotella. We were asked to imagine an ancestor speaking to us.
I speak with you now, dear descendant, hopefully to motivate you in your work about Palestine-Israel. I will admit that, altho long dead, I once killed my Jewish neighbors. This began during a period of pogroms initiated by other gentiles in my German village. At first I did nothing. I did not intervene physically, I did not speak out either during or after the attacks, and I now realize—maybe it’s too late, I am beyond punishment, except for my own guilt feelings—I was wrong in my silence. I was ignorant, I was misguided, and I allowed my family and friends who often were perpetrators as well to overly influence me.
My silence, my acquiescence, developed my attitude, and I grew arms, the arms of a killer. With my neighbors I slaughtered my other neighbors, simply because they were Jews and thus more and more hated. For generations we’d lived together. Then a pestilence struck us, a pestilence of the mind and the mob, and I found myself swinging the axe. I murdered.
Several generations later one of my family joined the Nazi party and the SS and accepted an assignment to Auschwitz which I know you have visited. Had you been him what would you have done if given that assignment? Like this young man, would you have relished the privilege of killing Jews, removing them from the earth, thereby protecting—or so we believed—our sacred nation? Would you also have felt safe from the war by your assignment far from the active fighting, oblivious to the suffering you caused?
Can I convince you, dear descendent, speaking from so far in the past but related by blood to you, that you must now avoid the trap that destroyed me and many of my ancestors and our descendants—right the wrongs your ancestors have done! Can I convince you to act boldly and deeply now that you’ve received one more teaching from an ancestor, perhaps take a more active role in ending not only the oppression of Jews but the oppression caused by Jews in the name of the holocaust? Will you be courageous enough to speak out, act out, photograph and write about the wars on the Palestinians, who like the Israeli Jews, have rights to that land?