Picture used with permission by the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center.
Never Forget – to a nation wounded by the dreadful consequences of evil, these words signify an oath. When the acts of evildoers take away the lives of some and tear at the livelihood of others, “We shall never forget” is the pledge to remain intact the one temporal element no evil can tarnish: our memories. September 11th, 2001 is one day scarred into the memories of our people, especially New Yorkers. We remember the terror that has branded that day, though many people remember more acutely the goodness in those who were among the first-responders, and among the dead.
Perhaps the anniversary of September 11th teaches us how suffering caused by all the notorious evil acts of modernity demands our respectful remembrance. Of those we remember are the Comfort Women, the 200,000 Korean girls enslaved during the Second World War and the millions of Jews victimized at Auschwitz and other death camps. The list continues into far less notable, but equally devastating acts of evil known to man. “Never Forget” is our pledge to honor the dead by honoring the history that defined their lives.
Less than one week following the 13th anniversary remembering the September 11th attacks, many New Yorkers still possess a raw remembrance of that chilly Tuesday morning that chills our hearts. Since its opening last May, the 9/11 museum has attracted nearly one million visitors. It doesn’t take advertisements on the MTA to convince people to remember 9/11 – they remember because the suffering remains so close.
Suffering: A Great Mystery
Suffering is itself a great mystery to humanity. No man, woman or child can escape the painful experience of suffering despite how desperately our culture attempts to escape its reach or subdue its effects through addictions and consumerism. St. John Paul II gave us a wealth of insight in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, where he states, “Human suffering evokes compassion; it also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates” (4). The intimidation of suffering ought to remind us that sin is real, as damaging as ever, and continually calls for a society that unequivocally recognizes objective truth, a truth that judges personal actions and cultivates a well-formed conscience in its people. When as a society, we forget to acknowledge the reality of sin – whether personal sin or social sin – we simultaneously forget how the touch of sin victimizes others, and even ourselves.
St. John Paul II tells us that suffering evokes compassion. Since the horror caused by ISIS displaced over one million Iraqis amidst the persecution of religious minorities and in particular, Christians, the social conscience of the world has been disturbed. Our response to the person marginalized by the evil acts of another cannot suffice as merely a sympathetic sigh or a transitory sentiment of sorrow, while our lives continue as though the suffering of the marginalized person does not exist. Rather, suffering demands compassion, or better “co-passion” when the onlooker willingly becomes a partaker in the passio of the suffering Iraqi Christian woman or Yazidi child. Through prayer & fasting, remaining mindful of those suffering, and attempting to stop the cause of suffering with the means available to us, we are capable of responding compassionately.
Finally, St. John Paul II tells us that suffering evokes respect. A recent 20th century theologian, Johann Baptist Metz writes, “The essential dynamism of history is the memory of suffering as a negative awareness of the freedom that is to come, and as a stimulus to act within the horizon of this history in such a way as to overcome suffering.” This understanding of suffering qualifies the phrase, “Never Forget”: our remembrance of suffering conditions our actions so to never again recommit or allow such crimes. Never forgetting does not simply engage the mind, but engages both spiritual powers of the human person: mind and will.
The respectful remembrance of suffering is an engaging, self-limiting remembrance that demands justice for the marginalized. One particular organization, the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center, has sought to manifest this kind of remembrance of the greatest hate crime ever committed by modern civilization: the Holocaust. Under the direction of Dr. Arthur Flug, the Center has for seven years provided internships for dozens of students annually to study the Holocaust through interviewing survivors and re-telling their stories to our current generations of young people. In the last few years, the Center has undertaken an internship program directing students to encounter an oft-unnoticed group of survivors: Comfort Women.
Comfort women are those who in the 1930’s were hopeful teenagers in Korea, but soon 200,000 were enslaved by the invading Japanese army and forced into sexual slavery. By the end of World War II, less than 100,000 of these women remained alive, and despite crying out to the world for justice, the crimes committed against them were denied or ignored. Now, more than 70 years later, fewer than 100 of these surviving women remain, some within the Korean community in Queens. The Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center has teamed up with this community and is having their student interns become first-hand witnesses of the stories told by Comfort Women survivors.
Students interested in this internship should visit the Center’s website, and consider applying by following the instructions posted. Application deadline is September 26th 2014.
Our remembrance of those victimized by evil cannot, however, bring back the dead. The answer, we believe by faith, lies upon the now empty Cross of Jesus Christ. Yesterday, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we sang triumphantly for the victory won on the Cross. The Cross from which hung the “Suffering Servant”, the crucified form of Jesus Christ, now exists as a sign of hope. For when we believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, we also believe that the man, woman, and child victimized by evildoers shall also rise on the last day.