By Adrienne Mingo, Holocaust Educator Intern (opens in a new tab)
The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers” – Erich Fromm.
If you would have told me a year ago that I’d be working for one of the best Holocaust museums in the world, transcribing testimonies of liberators and survivors of the Holocaust, I wouldn’t have believed you. This opportunity, to listen to and tell these stories from so long ago, and document these personal histories, has been incredible, and has given me the insight to look further beyond the surface. The lessons that I’ve learned from those I’ve been able to listen to are lessons I will carry with me going forward in my career. Unfolding the layers of a person’s life, listening to the most traumatic parts of their memories, changes you, and makes you more aware of the uncertain situations and complex lives every person leads every day.
Recently, as life has been turned upside down completely, I’ve thought to myself, “How do I make this world better?” As a very recent college graduate, that question seems to loom larger and larger every day. Over my years of working in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies field, I’ve been in a constant search for answers and reasons as to why things happen the way they do, and why people do the things they do. Why did the murder of millions make sense to those in power? My work with the Museum of Jewish Heritage has not necessarily answered those questions, but made them more important to ask. Walking into schools, leading tours for younger kids, they always ask “Why?” and I could never give them an answer. You could go into detail about Jews being persecuted for centuries and being used as scapegoats during this time, but that could never capture the true nature of why the Holocaust happened. Even though I continue to struggle with the question of why, through my studies and this internship I became much more knowledgeable about how the Holocaust came to happen.
In times of uncertainty, I think it’s incredibly important to keep asking questions, to continue the desire for information and answers. It’s also important to not lose sight of compassion and empathy, understanding the human experience. In his testimony, Herschel Schacter, who was an American Orthodox Rabbi, explains he enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was sent all over the world before finally being sent into Europe; specifically, he was sent to Buchenwald. He dedicated all of his time and whatever resources he could to comforting and guiding these survivors. He was reprimanded by his Senior Chaplain, for “neglecting his duties” to the United States Army. “And I said to him, ‘I’m sorry sir, I have– this is a higher duty that I have.’ As a matter of fact, I got angry…” He was able to see the bigger picture that was presented to him. He knew that he couldn’t focus only on the American mission, he had to find a way to help his people, so that none of them are left behind. Schachter knew that in doing so, he could make an impact.
With the recent pandemic, it’s been incredibly difficult to not hear thousands of differing opinions on what to do and who to listen to, and things have felt disjointed. I’ve been trying to reflect on the things that I can control, and the things I can’t. My work at the Museum has made me more motivated to change things because they can’t go back to the way they were. It’s been a difficult balancing act between using this time to create and work hard, and also just surviving; knowing that I don’t have to push myself harder just because I’m stuck at home all the time. If the testimonies that I’ve been transcribing have taught me anything, it would be, just survive. It’s OK to get through this time the best way you know how.
Adrienne Mingo is a graduate of Stockton University, where she majored in Historical Studies and minored in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.