On November 9, 2009, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, signaling the end of the Cold War. It is also the sad anniversary of Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) the Nazi state sanctioned anti Jewish pogrom which led to death, destruction and 30,000 Jews being sent to concentration camps. Like Germany, each nation’s past reflects good and evil, gallant moments when man did the right thing, dark hours where his actions were morally wrong.
No matter where you live, walls surround you. But in the West those walls have doors. Free to wander outside our homes, around town, over the state line, across the border, it is hard to fathom waking up one morning to a city split by barbed wire and concrete, dividing friends, lovers, and families. How could something so atrocious have happened in the 20th century? Unimaginable! But the political climate was different during the peak of the Cold War, where the communist east and capitalistic west were at odds.
During the 60s, 70s in the States, growing up in the heartland, one understood, almost by osmosis, that communism was evil without really knowing why. Calling someone was a commie was a defamation of character. In schools, we learned to duck under desks at the sound of an alarm in case of an air raid, as well as, a tornado warning. To children it was all mysterious and intriguing. Had anyone actually ever been inside the neighbor’s bomb shelter?
Yet childhood lessons remained ingrained. When I lived in Germany in the early ‘80s, friends proposed a trip to Berlin to see Check Point Charley, yet owning an American passport, I feared approaching a 100-mile radius of the Berlin Wall.
How much was propaganda? How much childhood fantasy? The fact remains, hundreds of East Germans lost their lives attempting to escape and millions of others lived in fear. Without a doubt, in that time, the Soviets ruled by force and oppression. The wall, originally built to prevent those in the east from fleeing to the west, served its purpose brutally well.
Yet walls remain dividing nations, races, religions, ethnicities, classes and ideologies. The Israel- Palestine wall of discord along Cisjordania. China – North Korea the wall of anti exodus. S. Korea –N. Korea the last wall of the Cold War. Botswana and Zimbabwe wall of unwanted. India-Pakistan –separating the two Cashmeres. Between Mexico and the United States, India and Bangladesh, Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco barriers prevent illegal immigration.
Invisible walls of racism, intolerance and discrimination still stand in our homelands, even in our neighborhoods. It is important to remember, to witness, and to bear testimony, to learn from our past.
Good and evil exists side by side in society. Yet to judge an individual by his race, country, religion, ethnicity or political affinity is to shortchange ourselves.
Today I treasure my friendships with those once labeled enemies. Wherever you live, dare to reach across the boundaries, to break down walls, real and imagined, that continue to separate us.