Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A look at two 88 year olds' legacies: Holocaust Museum shooting illustrates need for Education and Acceptance

“Regrettably, this is an example of what hate can do. This is why I was preaching at high schools and universities (for the past 40 years.) The worst four letter word is H_A_T_E – it’s the most destructive word of them all. All these horrible killings and disasters are based on hate – religious, political, racial HATE.” Dr. Henry Oertelt told me when I called him tonight and asked for his comments.

I was shocked when I heard the news of James von Brunn, 88, a white supremacist and Holocaust denier, who opened fire on Stephen Tyrone Johns, a six-year veteran of the Washington D.C. Holocaust museum's security staff, who "died heroically in the line of duty," according to Sara Bloomfield, museum director.

This is not just a Jewish issue, this concerns everyone.

My friend, 88 year old Dr. Henry Oertelt, is a Holocaust survivor. He didn’t want to spend his life discussing the worst time in his life, (who would?) but a teacher insisted he come speak to her students 40 years ago and the invitations haven’t stopped since. And Henry has done his duty, trying to educate kids from middle school through college students as well as adults at civic groups, churches and other community organizations.

Both Dr. Oertelt and Van Brunn are 88 years old. And while Henry was spreading education and love, von Brunn was seething with hate and that will be his legacy.

Henry’s motto is, “If you absolutely have to hate, hate HATE.” He was actually an honored guest when the Holocaust Museum was opened and his identity is used in the museum experience, which allows guests to receive a passport when they enter the museum and find out at the end of their visit if that person lived or died.

Dr. Oertelt has already received two honorary doctorates from St. Cloud State University and South West State University, in Minnesota and he will be receiving his third from St. Olaf College on October 15, 2009.

And so, Dr. Oertelt and I will forge ahead with our feature film project, An Unbroken Chain: The Movie. Not because the world needs another holocaust movie, but because the world needs to understand what hate can do.

We have been asked to speak at the Holocaust Educator’s Conference next year in Phoenix at the Bureau of Jewish Education. I’ve joined the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association, a group who celebrates their 25th anniversary October 25. These survivors chose life over hate, and as Helen Handler, one of the surviving women so eloquently put it, "We didn’t put a gun in our children’s hands, we put a book in their hands."

Please help spread the word about our project. We will need all the support we can get. Join us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter (see link on this page) to stay in the loop. Thanks. Shalom.

(Photo courtesy of Francis B. Schreiber, St. Cloud State University)

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