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A Reflective VoiceAlysha Atma Salem-News.com African Affairs Correspondent
I am honored to have walked and listened. Mine is the last generation to physically hear a Holocaust survivor speak.
(PORTLAND, Ore.) - On Tuesday I had the distinct opportunity to cover a Clackamas High School Field trip. Mr. Rob Hadley the Genocide Studies teacher took his ninth graders first, on a tour of the Holocaust Memorial, and then listen to a survivor tell her story.
The students were given an opportunity to listen, feel and reflect on the experience and strength of those that survived the Holocaust, in hope of inspiring action and a voice against atrocities of this kind now, and in the future.
One student asked “Do you wish for revenge?”
“I am living my revenge, I survived, I lived. I stand here and tell hundreds of people the story that we never forget. I have raised children and grandchildren I have a wonderful life. I lived, that is my revenge”.
Beginning the journey through the memorial, it is quiet and serene; the birds are chirping, squirrels playing, a very comforting place. Upon entering the memorial, the “town square” is marked with a 1930’s lamppost; immediately what first appear to be rocks are actually personal objects, pieces of the lives of those that survived this act of violence.
A baby doll, menorah, glasses, a violin, a book and a large suitcase are scattered around this path. The sense is that people left town in a great hurry dropping things along the way; then the wall comes into focus down a long path that appears to be train tracks.
The Final Solution could not have happened without the railways, without the trains making the mass transport possible.
About 10,000 had been loaded into cattle cars, the floors of which were spread with deadly quicklime, bound - we found out later - for Auschwitz. The burning heat and poisonous fumes of the lime left only 400 of them alive when they reached their destination ... 
Six Million Jews perished; approximately 67 percent of the European Jewish population. Five Million non-Jews were murdered; the Holocaust affected many other groups of people Gypsies, Poles, Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Handicapped and those with different Political beliefs. Of the eleven million people, 1.5 million were children.
When coming up to the wall both ends have very profound statements.
On the right is a “book” a thoughtful symbol as the Jewish community treasures education, the arts and history, something that Hitler’s regime preyed upon. The book holds two panels referencing the history of the Holocaust, lest we never forget how it was allowed to begin or continue for many years.
On the left is a memorial within a memorial; under the rock holds the soil and ashes from the six major camps.
“Beneath this rock are interred soil and ash from the six killing-center camps of the Holocaust: Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek, Auchwitz-Birkenau.”
Millions of people died in the camps due to starvation, disease and exhaustion. This rock represents a place for Holocaust survivors in Oregon and Washington to come and honor their family members and realize their personal strength. Although having the soil there serves as a powerful symbol where many died; there are still many left without a marker that perished along the journey, and for many there is no final resting place.
Looking forward at the memorial is the witness wall, where many quotes are rooted as collected from the survivors. These memories are a chance for the survivors and their families to share his or her connection with the past but also to help those that come to visit and learn; an opportunity to personally connect and feel.
In 1998, at the risk of great emotional cost, some of the survivors returned to the place where they witnessed and lost so much in an effort to bring that connection forward to this memorial.
The back of the wall is dedicated to the names of those who perished and the names of their surviving relatives here in Oregon and SW Washington. Remembrance of the few is only a shadow of the many, for every name that is known there are thousands that will remain lost.
The emotional connection is very real no matter your race, nationality or religion. When reading these names the emotion is reflected back, your eyes, and the names intermingle through your reflection against the memorial’s black wall.
“First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was Protestant. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me”. Martin Niemoeller, Holocaust Survivor, said.
I am honored to have walked and listened. Mine is the last generation to physically hear a Holocaust survivor speak. There is a responsibility that comes with information. You are now marked; you can never walk away and say, I didn’t know. We must speak out against atrocities; if we do not, how can we expect others to speak out for us?
Alysha Atma spends many hours working on projects that support and benefit the beleaguered people of African nations who spend way too much time off the western media's radar. This writer explains that she is a culmination of all her experiences, most importantly knowledge she says, and all that she still needs to learn; lessons of love, laughter and the extraordinary giving of both young and old. She says she has the enormous fortune of learning from the best; every person around her, and the amazing strength and fortitude of those she has never met but will always strive to listen to. "I continue to work and write because I believe in the power of community and the power of one, both contradictory to each other and yet can move together in a very powerful way. I feel a responsibility to use my place, freedoms and connections here in the US to stand up and yell for those who need my voice and actions. I have seen such strength in my fellow humans that I cannot even begin to comprehend, they have traveled distances, have gone without food, water, shelter and safety for days and weeks at a time. I have a responsibility as a fellow human to put our common humanity before anything else. Everyone deserves to look towards tomorrow, to dream of a safe future and to have a peaceful present." You can write to Alysha Atma at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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