It is tempting when one has never been the victim of vicious violence or terrible injustice, to fall prey to the romantic notion that suffering inevitably ennobles the soul. It is not always so.
In some cases those who have suffered terribly are left to wade through generations of bitterness, resentment, and anger. There seems to be no end to the dark tunnel of tragedy that continues to unfold from the hurts of the past.
I had always naively hoped that people who, by some unimaginable good fortune, survived the horrors of the Second World War would have come through the experience possessed of a deep affirmation of the power of life and the indomitable resilience of the human spirit. According to Dana Kletter the wounds of 1939-1945 did not necessarily come to an end with “liberation.”
Dana Kletter is a writer and musician who lives in San Franciso. Writing in the December issue of “The Sun” magazine, Kletter tells the story of her grandmother and her mother who by a strange twist of fate “passed through ghetto, boxcar, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buchenwald” with their physical lives, but nothing much else, still intact. They survived but lost almost everything.
My mother and grandmother emerged at the end of the war liberated of everything: family, friends, home. They had nothing left but hate.
Hatred is a tragic legacy of a system built on hatred and destruction. It is a legacy transmitted from generation to generation.
So we learned to hate, we, the children and grandchildren, and we became like them, giving in to fury like Dionysians to ecstasy. We battled each other ferociously until we were bloodied. And when our fights we over, we would pick our injured bodies up off the floor and walk away, no apologies.
So the horror of Holocaust continues. The poison of Nazism passes from parent to child. Death flows in the bloodstream of the descendents of pain.
In the face of so much death, the world cries out for pioneers of life to stand at the frontier of forgiveness forging new paths through the darkness.
In the end Dana Kletter’s mother chose to become one of those pioneers. Soon after Dana’s grandmother Anyu died, Kletter’s mother stood in her own mother’s home and
shouted, ‘I know what you want! You want me to forgive you. I forgive you, Anyu. I forgive you.’ She stood in the living room in a kind of ecstasy, eyes closed.
Forgiveness is the only power with the capacity to break the cycle of violence, anger, and hatred.
Forgiveness is never easy and no one can tell another when the time has come that makes forgiveness possible. But, there comes a point when the demand for human “justice”, has run its course. There is a moment in every tortured human relationship when a space opens and it becomes possible to let go of the past and imagine a future that finds a new way through the wilderness.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. It does not mean wiping out or in any way diminishing the terrible wrongs of the past. To forget the Holocaust is to risk losing sight of the inhumanity of which human beings are capable and to repeat the worst horrors of our species.
Forgiveness means letting go of the need to make right that which can never be fixed.
If the Holocaust teaches anything, it surely teaches that there are certain wrongs that simply cannot be made right. The scales of justice will never be perfectly balanced. There is no way to get even, no way to fix what has been so terribly broken. We either continue suffering from the hurt and transmit that hurt to others, or we stand in the middle of the living room and shout
‘I forgive you, Anyu. I forgive you.’
We say ‘Today, by forgiveness, I make a breach in the fortification of resentment. I choose to let go of my need for resolution. I surrender my demand for life to be tidily balanced according to my vision of the way life should be. I release those who have so long held me in their grip and refuse any longer to give them power in my life.’
This is the power of forgiveness. It is the only power stronger than the violence of the past. It is the only choice that has the potential redeem the horror towards which we humans seem so often to be inexorably drawn. Forgiveness opens us to the possibility of a new frontier.