I remember hearing a National Public Radio story years ago, the very day that the Holocaust Memorial opened in 1993. The interview was with a professor of political philosophy from Catholic University whom NPR had asked to visit the new museum on their behalf, and to report on what it meant for America.
A profoundly thoughtful man, he had seen carefully, and had a lifetime of human experience and relevant scholarship that deepened his insight. The words that caught my heart were these, ““It matters because it reminds us of the reality of evil.” He went on to comment about why that mattered in a cultural moment when the intellectual ethos scoffs at evil, certain it is just one more flawed narrative of someone’s social experience— because, after all, good and evil do not exist, just as right and wrong do not exist, in the modern-becoming-postmodern world.
I thought of this last night as Meg and I saw one more Holocaust-era film, which she allows me for long love’s sake, knowing my penchant for sad stories about things that really happened, even as I am more intrigued by the stories of visionary and courageous people who said “no” to the unspeakable sadness of the Holocaust.
“Two Lives” is a Norwegian film that takes place in the years following World War II, and which necessarily has its own great complexity, more than I will say much about here. Starring Liv Ullman, the featured actress for Ingmar Bergman when he was the great director of the great films, she plays the grandmother in this story of the relationships born of war which are never able to finally forget war.
In this day and week when the news of immigrants floods our minds and hearts, and each of us wonder what we might do, this film reminds us of the human face of global geo-politics, with nation against nation, war after war, wound upon wound, and ordinary people being victimized by great causes that are always above and beyond them— but are presumably always about them.
This is that story too. Innocent people, frail people who become part of a history they never really wanted or understood, but whose lives are forever impacted by decisions made by politicians and bureaucrats who act as if their wars are for something noble and heroic, and yet and yet, leave a long, long trail of tears.
I couldn’t watch this story without thinking of the conflicts of this moment, with men and women and children pushed out and across the places of other peoples, longing for a home, for someplace safe from war. That is of course a hope in every heart in the face of the fallenness of this life and world where evil is more real than we ever want or imagine.