Skip to content

September 26, 2011



by Andrea O'Connell

Merriam-Webster’s definition of Xenophobia:  “Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”

I am on vacation this week, so my mom and I went to see the movie Sarah’s Key this afternoon.  We’d both read the book by Tatiana De Rosnay, and were both anxious and hesitant to see the movie, knowing the Holocaust is disturbing  subject matter.

I never knew about France’s role in the genocide of Jewish people, during WWII, until I read Sarah’s Key.  I’ve read many books on WWII and yet never heard of the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup.

The movie follows a young victim of the genocide in France.  In the Roundup, (Paris, 1942), the police and government set about to ensure the extinction of Jewish families.  During the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup, Jewish families were herded into the Velodrome, a large bicycling arena, where they were kept for days without anything to eat, no restrooms, or medical care.

And then, families were separated.  Husbands and wives separated, young babies torn from mothers, then older children dragged away from mothers desperate to keep them.

The events in France – the extinction of thousands and thousands of French Jews – was something, as I mentioned earlier, I’d never studied.  I was under the impression that France was of a different mind during the war.  As it turns out, they were as ruthless as the Germans.  (I’m reading some historians who say the French finally found their conscience and the genocide did end and was never repeated.)

The reason I am writing about this tonight?  I cannot get out of my head the reality – the harsh and brutal facts that people could be herded off to their deaths en masse.  French citizens allowed it to happen.  In the movie, some cheered as victims were herded out of their homes and into the streets, then removed.

How does society, or a community, allow this to happen?   It is mind boggling to think of the reality – the flesh and the blood, the fathers, mothers, sons and daughters purposely slaughtered.  Human beings like you and me, taken like they were property from their homes!

I’m a complete idealist, and have trouble accepting how prejudice can fester, like a cancer, in the hearts of  people.

Anne Frank wrote, in The Diary of a Young Girl, ” In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart… ”

It was not long ago that the horror of the holocaust happened.   The United States condoned slavery, the interment of thousands of Japanese Americans in 1942, and similar atrocities.  What would we do if such atrocities happened today?

I thought of Troy Davis.  I thought of the death penalty, and how our state governments murder people on death row.  And I thought, if a government will kill one bad person, what prevents them from killing masses of people perceived by them to have no value?

The Holocaust happened not that long ago.  The Spanish Inquisition (1492), and the Holocaust, (1939-1945), were made from the same religious fervor and  hate, only they were centuries apart.

I wonder if hate, prejudice, racism, or  sexism, etc., results from ignorance.  If that is true, I’d like to think that education is the cure.   Ignorance, lack of education and socio-economic disparities harm our communities, too.  The education our children recieve in our Public Schools (in Florida) is horribly burdened from the top down and bottom up.  This is the very reason I agreed to be on the Board of the YMCA in Broward County, Florida.  Our children don’t have the resources they need to succeed, especially in the inner cities.  Not to mention the problems with parental support, homelessness, hunger, and so much more.

People are in trouble today in our communities.  The fact that people are going hungry in the United States of America is something I never thought possible.  My fear is the longer our middle class is allowed to shrink and morph into the depths of severe poverty, the more we are in danger of increased crime and unrest.

And, the Death Penalty is not the answer!  The Death Penalty has no bearing on crime. It is not a deterrent, say the experts, and it’s far more expensive to carry out than are life sentences.

One of the characters in the film, while in the filthy, crowded and pestilent train-car that was taking the Jewish victims to the work camps, shows young Sarah the large ring on his finger.  He tells her there is poison under the false facade of the stone on the ring.   He says,  “No one, no government – nor anyone but I – have the right to tell me when it’s time for me to die.”

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sep 27 2011

    Andrea, I think I mentioned in the past that my Mother was a teenager in Italy during the German occupation. Of the 45,000 Jews counted in Mussolini’s census of 1938, about 8,000 died in Nazi camps. About 7,000 managed to flee. About 30,000 lived in hiding before being liberated by Allied troops. If there was such a thing in relation to where a “Jew” had a better chance of survival in comparison to other European countries, it was Italy. I think that because Mussolini was an ally and had his own prison camps less were taken to Germany. Poland had the largest number taken, est. at 3 million.

    My Mother told us stories about the German army coming into town as well as during their occupation. The three situations that brought death. 1. Being a Jew. 2. Being in the Italian military. 3. Being a young man or boy. The Germans as routine would line up the young men and boys in the street, single one out and shoot them in the head. This was their way of controlling local populations.

    To think this could never happen again is to deny human evil. The same similar evil kills hundreds of thousands in some of the African nations. They don’t put you on a train but go village to village and kill everyone.

    A modern day incident made me have a flashback to reading about the trains filled with Jews sending them to concentration camps. Death was not the outcome but getting rid of people was the goal. In the aftermath of Katrina, Louisiana got rid of a lot of people by bus instead of trains. They made sure Bourbon Street, the Stadium and the higher end of society got back in working order. They made sure to condemn areas like the 9th Ward so that the less fortunate could not rebuild. Louisiana couldn’t have planned better to get rid of what was thought to be undesirable elements. Entitled rich white people were clicking their heels while states like Texas were footing the bill.

    Not exactly like Hitler but modern day racism and displacement of people because of ideals. I still have bad feelings especially when a few of us offered 2 months of our time to help rebuild but were told not to come because local government had not decided on what was going to be rebuilt. It didn’t take long to figure out, by example, what the priorities would be.

    • Sep 27 2011

      Hi Damagdpets,

      I always look forward to reading your perspective, thoughts, and experiences…. (You are a fine writer, too, by the way!)

      I remember vividly your comments about your Mother’s experiences…. How fortunate you and your family are to have that first-hand perspective from your Mom. Though this topic sends shivers down my spine, especially regarding New Orleans, it’s so important that we remember what happened.

      One thing you wrote resonates with an especially frightening truth. You wrote: “To think this could never happen again is to deny human evil.” And, I think about the ignorant among us who would deny the Holocaust ever happened. I think of the hate mongers like the KKK who litter our recent history with despicable things, and the self-proclaimed “skin-heads” and other anti-Semite groups, and I know these are the kinds of people we need to fear.

      And, the famine, the murders and the rapes in African regions are what nightmares are made of. How and why must we do these kinds of things to one another?

      I remember reading about how the Germans would kill young men as you described. The German soldiers wanted to make sure that the people feared for their lives to such an extent they became desperate and subservient … .

      When I consider the Holocaust and try to make sense of the number of lives lost – literally in the millions – the unfathomable-ness of it, I can barely wrap my head around it. But I do. It is important to think about it, it is important to take it in and make it personal – to never forget.

      I know we must never forget the evil that has lurked within people and which could be awakened again.

      It’s depressing to think and write about these things on the one hand; on the other hand, it is important to discuss it.

      I hate that the displacement of so many people in New Orleans was like a master-plan to clean the city of “undesirables,” but I do not for a moment doubt that was the case.

      If the masterminds behind the destruction of people’s homes, in places like the 9th Ward, thought personally about how they would react to being stripped of all belongings and of their home, I wonder if they would still participate in such treatment of the people of New Orleans ?

      If the people who arranged the buses that displaced people to Texas and other destinations, asked themselves how they would like such treatment, perhaps they’d pause and reconsider what it meant to be homeless, too. It’s not difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone less fortunate, but people with criminal minds can’t do this, I suppose.

      When I sit at my computer, and think about how lucky I am to have anything I could ever need or want close at hand, I imagine people in the Sudan and the horrors of Darfur, and I feel so helpless. But, then I take a breath and realize that simply by writing about genocide, racism, the death penalty and other horrors, I am doing “something.” It doesn’t feel like much, but it’s good that we do our best to remember. We must always remember the horrors that came before.

      Anyway, Damagd, thank you for sharing so much here. 🙂


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Fearsome Friday – Xenophobia | Out of the Woods

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: