Seeing the story of George Takei going back to Rohwer Camp reminded me of my own connection to that era. I am too young, actually, but those half a generation older do.
In my first year of seminary my next door neighbor at Fleck House (a residence for Meadville Students then) was Yoshihisa Alfred Tusyuki. He and I became friends, though he was a dozen years older than I. Al was/is a Konko minister, a monothiestic Shinto sect that more aligns with my beliefs than any other group. That brought us closer, along with a love of ice cream and Basho. So when I got married, he was a natural choice to officiate, being already ordained at the time. I can with little exaggeration say that Wendy and I were married by a Shinto priest. Did not expect that, did you?
Many years later we visited him in Los Angeles, where he grew up. In fact, his father was the founding clergy of the LA Konko church, and he is the successor. We had a great visit back then (and have connected up since as well) but in the mid 1990s we had our school age sons with us, so we touristed around. Across the street from our hotel, the Miyako in the old Japanese section of LA, was the Japanese American National Museum, then in a much smaller building. It's sole exhibition that summer was about the internment camps.
Al was interned. He was quite barely more than a toddler, but remembers going to Utah. The indignity and oppression were not as evident to him being so young, but it was part of his life.
I knew Holocaust survivors as well. My 8th grade homeroom and French teacher was one. And in seminary I ministered to an American secular Jewish doctor who was among those who liberated the first camps. I also met two who had actively resisted the Final Solution.
In the next decade those old enough to remember those crimes vividly - be they Japanese American internees, or Jews from Europe - will be gone. It will fall to those who knew them to remember them and what we were told by them.
Some days, too many actually, I lament that my accomplishments have been too few. if you are a regular reader you know my struggle with the Great Expectations heaped upon me and others of my generation. Much was expected because we had so much potential. A few wrote great books or did great deeds or made great gobs of money. Most of us did not, and a shadow of disappointment falls across us. But we can still redeem ourselves.
We can remember what those who knew from those awful times told us. We know it was real because we met them, saw their faces and heard the voices. I have seen the tattoos on the arms - which ironically marked them for survival; those not tattooed were sent directly to the ovens. I have seen the faded mementos of the internment camps.
There have been subsequent horrors, mostly smaller wars in far places that do not touch us unless a refugee arrives - Sudanese Lost Boys, Bosnian Muslims, Cambodian boat people, the Madres de la Plaza. But a small horror is only smaller, not less horrible. If you are younger than me, you have met someone who was in the midst of horror somewhere. Do you remember?
I think that there are really only two gifts we can give the future - memory and hope. Now that I am 60, making sure I do that becomes more important every day.