The hardest decision I faced yesterday was whether I would go horseback riding or to the shooting range. Horseback riding won out (though I’m still not sure if that was the safer option).
As I trotted around on my horse, I got to thinking. Life is full of decisions. It happens to be a time in my life when the decisions are pretty insignificant; fun even. Will we head to Germany after Poland, or catch an earlier flight home? Not such a bad decision to make.
But do I really appreciate that? Am I enjoying making all these easy decisions?? We all know decisions aren’t always so simple. Or easy. Or right. Or even decisions that you want to have to make.
As we left Krakow a few weeks back, we stopped at the Auschwitz concentration camp. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my initial reaction was, ‘Wow, this is a lot smaller than I thought it would be.’
And then I felt like an ass.
This place, this tiny place, was the site where hundreds of thousands of people were held and murdered. Imagine making decisions as a person inside that camp. Do you fight back? Are you even physically able to fight back? Should you help the person next to you if he’s fallen, or will that just make it worse? I can’t even pretend to know the decisions these people faced inside the walls of this camp; the decisions everyone faced during that time.
One of the first quotes I saw in the Auschwitz buildings is from George Santayana:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
Through our classes here, I have seen that this history is built into more aspects of the culture and the law than I even could have fathomed. Europe has broad anti-discrimination laws to protect larger classes of people from finding themselves in another similar situation. There are laws in most countries that prevent speech that denies the Holocaust occurred.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
It makes me wonder, though, if America always remembers the past, not the Holocaust as much, but our own past: Slavery, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movement.
Do we learn from our past decisions of tolerating hateful attitudes towards persons with certain characteristics, and therefore strive to keep an open mind? Do we decide to enact laws that aim to avoid the kind of oppression and disparate treatment that we once had on the law books in the past?
Decisions are not always easy. But there is always hope, if you choose it. Hope that yesterday’s mistaken decision will avoid the same problem today, and tomorrow. Hope that tomorrow will bring a better option. Hope that tomorrow will have no decisions at all.
What I didn’t know, was that the initial grounds we toured were only the beginning. Only a short while later there would be Auschwitz-Birkenau, a camp with its own railroad track that startled me with its endlessness. And even after that Auschwitz-Monowitz.
This trip is quickly becoming my own history. May it always remind me to keep an open mind and an open heart. May it remind me the next time I am frustrated with choices, that at least I have choices. And that those choices aren’t always so bad.