By Clyde Davis: Local Columnist
This was another piece of the family reunion we attended several weeks ago. It was the less joyful piece, and it was the piece that made one stop and think about a darker side of life. It was a piece of this family’s history, but in other forms, it is a piece of other family histories as well. It is known in many stories but with one point, and that point is appropriate, this close to Sept. 11.
The family from which my wife’s dad came had emigrated from Russia in the early 1900s, having been part of a German influx to the Volga Valley under Catherine the Great many years prior. In Russia they had kept their ethnic identity, and of course not all of them had come to the United States.
Thus we find ourselves in World War II, and that was the focal point of the movie we watched. Or, in my case, didn’t completely watch, because it was too difficult. I had to leave the room, after a while.
It seems that under Stalin, in the years immediately prior to and early on in the war, the decision was made to move these people, en masse, to Siberia. With only what they could carry with them, leaving behind the farms and businesses they had worked so hard to build, could life get any worse?
It did. Families were separated. Men of potential fighting age were sent to labor camps, then worked to death — unofficially, of course. Children were separated from their parents and left to shift for themselves, often not surviving. That was the point at which I had to leave.
But it’s not a one-time event. It isn’t just about the Volga Germans. Nor is it about the Trail of Tears, or the persecution of Gypsies and Jews by Nazis, or the Long Walk of the Navajo, or the displacement of Irish and Scottish by England. It’s about what all of the aforementioned symbolizes, reaching its zenith, if that term may be used, in events like Sept. 11.
It is, in short, about hatred, fear and prejudice, and how they make one group of people willing to exterminate another. It’s about a mentality that crosses race and time, even religion, which is willing to view others, not as fellow human beings or even part of creation, but as something to be hunted down and destroyed.
When I was small, I was taught to believe in hell. Then I went through a period of time when I did not feel sure of its existence —that there must be only heaven. Oh, yes, I believe in hell again. If there were no hell, then where would we find Stalin, Hitler, Saddam or the leader of the Wounded Knee Massacre (1891)?
We can, and should, work against this blind hatred, whatever its details, knowing that as it has been present many times and places, we will not completely eradicate it, but are constrained to try. Perhaps, in time, as we inch closer, we will come to a place where events, like those in the film we saw, are only marveled at as examples of how brutally humans used to treat one another.