“Peoples is Peoples”

 In Relationships, Repairing the World, SHIFT

That old line from a Muppet movie visits and revisits my mind. How much are we similar to those of other cultures, other countries? Does it matter that we look for what we have in common? Perhaps it is enough to realize our differences.

Even here in this “foreign” place, on a recent trip to Europe, there is much of the familiar in all those we encounter as our tourist bus takes us through the countryside. Parents are laughing, holding, caring for their littles. Men and women are taking pride in their work and homes.

The very young are making up games outside their apartment houses, sometimes in grassy areas, but most seem to be playing on sidewalks too close to the streets. Older children are bicycling past by two’s while clusters of teens walk as one in a closed conversation without regard to place or passersby.

There are still clothes hanging to dry from any available balcony, but never is seen the owner who puts them out or takes them in. A quiet wedding couple is being photographed amongst ivy-covered buildings as the laundry waves above them.

Motor bikes dart in and out of traffic passing our lumbering bus. Patchwork fields dot the landscape interrupted by the occasional stone home complete with barn and the ever-present family garden. Little villages materialize every few kilometers. Does every window have a box of red flowers? Before I can identify the plants, the countryside once again envelopes us. Occasional factories pop up atop the random hills. Are those purple and yellow flowers lining this road the same as ours back home?

This is Poland, but it could be anywhere. People “eating, drinking, giving and taking in marriage,” going about the business of living. So how could they not notice all that happened to millions of people in their back yard during the War? How could they just tend their gardens within a few miles of starving, tortured, dying prisoners? If it had been prisoners of war or criminals, most of us might still go about our business. I know I lived within eight miles of a penitentiary for twelve years without a thought for what went on behind those walls.

But, it was wartime. The land was occupied. Is all we think about just what might interrupt the normalcy of our lives? How does one account for the disappearance of millions of our neighbors? How do we rationalize two or three trains a day pulling cattle cars crammed with horrified passengers? How do we explain the acrid smoke and fallout from so much burning?

This was Hitler’s Final Solution for the Jewish people. Everything in me wants to pass judgment on all those living in the surrounding areas for not intervening. As much as I hate it, the words of our Town Guide echo in my mind, “How can we know what we would do?” We can hope that our character, our concern for our fellow man would rise to the top at such a moment. Are we capable of summarily dismissing a people? Not we. Nothing, no one could turn me into such a cruel person I cry, I shout, I murmur.

At any moment throughout the world there are images on TV begging for help for starving people. There are children working in sweat shops. There are news images of Tsunami victims. Today we are inundated with so much grief and desperate need. We are overcome with the magnitude of the shocking despair. It motivates some to help. For the most part, however, we change channels. It is overwhelming. Not feeling we can make even a dent in the need, most of us do nothing.

Could that be how the Polish people felt? Hitler’s army was occupying their country. There was military law. They had to be numbed by all they were seeing and experiencing. They must have felt their own situation was tenuous at best. The entire country was walking on eggs, afraid that at any moment they would invoke the wrath of the occupier. There had been many false steps. Polish men had been imprisoned, joining those who had been rounded up – those who were hated for who they were perceived to be, for being different.

We have all heard the stories of scattered individuals or groups of non-Jewish people who did try to intervene. How amazing that was. I have a Dutch friend who was six at that time and living with his family in Holland. His father had been caught for hiding Jews and was shot in front of the family. Is there any greater love than to lay down our life for what we believe in? In spite of, or maybe because of what his family experienced, my friend continued in his tenacious love for and sacrificial support of the Jewish people all of his life.

My heart goes out to the Polish people. But my husband, my children, my grandchildren are Jewish. We are missing so many who did not survive. Nothing can be done to right the terrible wrong that was done to the Jewish people in Poland and the surrounding countries. We must decide now what we will do if we are confronted with such heinous crimes against humanity – any humanity. It has to not matter which person or people are being targeted for annihilation. We must say, “Never again.”

Full circle, back to the Muppet movie and the owner of the diner who employed “all kinds.” When asked why he had rats working for him, the implication being, of course, that rats were the lowest of the low – vermin that bear and spread disease – even with that, his comeback was his all-inclusive refrain, “Peoples is Peoples.”

Oh, that we could be that wise. We will find no one people just like us. No matter our opinion, our beliefs, every one of us is just trying to eke out a meaningful life on this orb. The fact that we all share this same planet should also inform our compassion for all. We can’t tell anyone to go home for there is but the one home.

I side with our rat-hiring friend and many wise counselors when I echo, if we allow anyone, any group to diminish the human value of any person or people, we truly diminish us all.  And the next “peoples” to be transported to their doom could be ours.

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