Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How We Remember

Yesterday, I went to the Holocaust Memorial in Boston, which reminded me of one of the most significant things I remember from Ukraine.

The Boston memorial is an incredibly powerful place. I remember going there as a child and being stunned. There is grief there, and remembrance, and a real mourning. But there is also a disconnect--not to invalidate the memorial at all, but to say that it is just that. A memorial. Something we use to remember.

While in Kyiv, some of the students took me to their WWII memorial and museum. As we were walking through the memorial, I was observant and a little mournful, feeling that strange looking-back-over-a-long-distance feeling that I always get at such sites of past sadness.

Then my friend came up to me and shuddered, saying, "I always get chills when I hear this song." Playing in the background was a song that, as she told me, was essentially the anthem of Ukrainians in WWII.

She was not disconnected. The pain that Ukraine endured, decades before she was born, was still raw and real for her, who never endured it. The wound is still open.

I realized this more and more as we entered the museum. In America, we go to World War II museums with photographs and shrapnel and uniforms, and a final room that celebrates our victory. You read quotes at memorials about Slavic peoples being considered racially inferior and listed for "extermination." In Ukraine, you go to a museum and you see the plane that crashed where you are standing. You see the gloves made of human skin and the barbed wire from the camp Ukrainians were sent to. It is real. It was there. And, although the Soviet Union won the war, it was devastating.

Frankly, I'm not sure what my point is here. I'm not sure that there needs to be one. I think that the contrast speaks for itself, and that neither perspective is invalid. But I think it's important to remember that there is a sense of incompletion and of continued pain for cultures that have been abused, even when it ends in a treaty of victory. The country can still get chills years later.