Suzanne St. John-Crane, CEO, American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, Class XXV / Urbanism XXXIV
A couple of weeks ago I was at the ALF National Board Meeting in Houston. A colleague welcomed us into her home for a fabulous dinner and conversation. While our board socialized, I wandered the hallway looking at the spectacular art collection. I ended up in a foyer that featured generations of family pictures telling a story of heritage and pride.
A professionally shot portrait caught my eye, featuring a few hundred people at a formal dinner party. Looks like the 60s, I thought. Who are these people? A title was etched into the bottom of the picture that took me aback.
Bergen Belson Survivors Association, 1964 Reunion.
Hotel Biltmore, November 21, 1964
I studied the faces. Ladies with their bee-hived hair, men handsomely dressed in tuxes and suits. If this picture could talk, I thought. Everyone in this room either survived a concentration camp or married someone that did.
I sought out my colleague’s husband and asked if he’d be willing to share more about this picture. He took a deep breath, put on his glasses, and said yes. “There’s my father and mother. And here a couple of family friends…” Clearly he felt great pride and a profound connection to this picture. He shared that this group of survivors got together on occasion, and that most survivors married other survivors because of the profound shared experience of a concentration camp.
My eye was drawn to the stage behind the dining tables, where a group of men sat in a row proudly looking towards the camera. Above them hung a sign:
The US Holocaust Museum website reminds us: “Hitler didn’t make the Holocaust happen by himself. Many Germans and non-Germans contributed to/or benefited from the so-called ‘Final Solution.’ In addition to the SS, German government, military, and Nazi Party officials who planned and implemented policies aimed at persecuting and murdering the European Jews, many ‘ordinary’ people—civil servants, doctors, lawyers, judges, soldiers, and railroad workers—played a role in the Holocaust.”
We are at such a pivotal moment in our country’s history and we have the opportunity to respond to hateful rhetoric with courage and empathy. Remember that hate breeds hate. Remember that isolationism and separatism create paranoia and dangerous misperceptions. Remember that we share one planet and a common humanity. Remember our history.
I thanked this man for sharing such a deep and painful part of his family’s experience. I thought about what pictures would be hanging in my house in 40 years. I’m encouraged by the individuals and groups I see convening conversations with those that have opposing viewpoints. What isn’t working for you? How can we build something new together that considers all? Can we truly hear someone’s fear and anger, and stand in empathy with them, even if we disagree?
We have an opportunity right here, right now, to remember… and write an inspired story of inclusion and healing for future generations.