Meet a few relatives of mine.
For those of you confused by the photo, it is of a mass grave at what was once called Ponary, outside of what was once called Vilna, in Lithuania (Which itself was once Russian, once Polish, and during the time of the executions: German)
My direct family came from Vilna sometime around 1900, about 42 years before these people were murdered. They were Jewish, although I am not. That there was family there is un-doubtable, as the family name figured large in Vilna’s history.
Vilna is one of the, unfortunately, many places where nearly 100% of the Jewish population was murdered during the holocaust.
Why is Reverend Buki talking about this today?
Because it pisses him off.
You see, the Nazis weren’t the primary killers of the Jews of Vilna, it was the God-fearing Christian Lithuanians. They were the neighbors, the friends, the acquaintances, of the people they murdered.
You see, Flockers, the Lithuanian people were several things. First they were virulent anti-Semites, they were cowards who sucked up to the Nazis without shame, and they were murderers with more blood on their hands than even the Nazis in Lithuania.
To understand, you must do the research. Please do. You can start with an amazing book:
Ponary Diary, 1941-1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder
“Over a period of several years, Kazimierz Sakowicz, a Polish journalist who lived in the village of Ponary, was an eyewitness to the murder of these Jews as well as to the murders of thousands of non-Jews on an almost daily basis. He chronicled these events in a diary that he kept at great personal risk. Written as a simple account of what Sakowicz witnessed, the diary is devoid of personal involvement or identification with the victims. It is thus a unique document: testimony from a bystander, an “objective” observer without an emotional or a political agenda, to the extermination of the Jews of the city known as “the Jerusalem of Lithuania.”Sakowicz did not survive the war, but much of his diary did.”- From the bookseller’s description
So Reverend Buki has much against this group of murderers, these neighbors, these acquaintances, of their victims.
The holocaust is of course an endless study, and yes Flockers, I have studied it. I’ve taken courses on it, wrote papers about it, watched, read, and listened to everything I could find about it. I’ve always been fascinated by how “normal” people could be persuaded to hate with such ferocity (because we would be foolish to think it couldn’t happen right here, after all, Germany was a highly civilized, highly artistic nation and it happened.) Little did I know at the time that I was studying the fate of people of my own blood. This revelation came by doing some family genealogy which led to surprise after surprise… and then there’s realization that for the many hours I studied the atrocities, I was, in a sense, reading the fate of people who were related to me. They were not direct relatives, I don’t pretend they were, but they were relatives.
But therein lies the flaw of thinking this way.
Are we not all related to those victims?
Are we not related to each other?
Do you really have to be of the same blood as the victim of discrimination, of bigotry, of extreme prejudice to see the wrong, to feel sickened by the act?
There is little to excuse the acts of the people of Lithuania during the holocaust. There is no explanation other than recognition that their hatred drove them to WANT to murder people they knew, or that their desire to acquiesce to a more powerful presence was more important to them than their own morality. They went to Church, they prayed to their God, and then they murdered helpless men, women, and children, people they knew by name and face, day after day, month after month, for three years.
And are we not related to them as well?
I think the following explains it best:
All credit to Thich Nhat Hanh, who describes it perfectly
Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.
There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh