We’ve been thinking about freedom. So this year’s Coming of Age trip to Boston where we walk part of the Freedom Trail, took on new and deeper meaning. Not that it takes a war with thousands of deaths to focus on freedom.
We visit Unitarian churches in Boston and Lexington which predate the Revolutionary War-the war for freedom from ‘taxation without representation. Freedom in America took on a new and deeper meaning following the war of ’76. Freedom is the first of the three pillars on which our Unitarian Universalist congregations are built: freedom, reason and tolerance.
In addition to the churches, we visit our Unitarian Universalist headquarters on Beacon Hill, next to the State House, and we venture down to Faneuil Hall, so famous for freedom, and Quincy Market.
We step off the Freedom Trail and walk a block from Faneuil Hall to encounter the New England Holocaust Memorial-six glass towers, each of which represents one of the death camps: Belzec, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Sobibor, Majdankek, Treblinka and Chelmno. The towers are built to look like chimneys which are 54 feet high and the glass is etched with six million white numbers representing serial numbers of the victims.
The Memorial, erected in 1995, is dedicated to the six million Jews who were systematically and brutally exterminated by the Nazis. It is also a reminder that eleven million were killed under the Nazi flag of racial superiority.
At each of the towers there are quotes from both victims and survivors, and there are statements about the Holocaust etched in the Memorial stones. One informs those who don’t yet know that a million and a half Jewish children were killed in the camps.
The German Protestant Minister, Martin Niemoeller, is quoted at the site. He was arrested by Hitler in 1937 for speaking out against the Nazi crimes.
He spent nearly eight years in prisons and concentration camps. After the war a student asked, “How could this have happened?” His famous response is carved in stone at the end of the Memorial:
“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 neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was noone left to speak out for me.”
This was my 19th pilgrimage from Westport to Boston with our Coming of Ageclasses. This year the journey took on new, deeper and more immediate meanings, coming on the heals of the war in Iraq. Some say that those six number-etched glass towers stretching into the sky like arms reaching into the heavens for hope. Hope itself is the prayer we carried to and from Boston with our Coming of Age class this year. We must hold on to our fervent hope that future generations will find diplomatic rather than violent ways to settle disputes. War makes us more committed to peace.