Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, as part of the biggest seaborne invasion in history, the Canadian Army landed on Juno Beach in Normandy. This week, especially, we remember that day of costly heroism and bloody sacrifice; events of such bravery in the face of terror that would be unimaginable were it not for the film and photographic record. The world wide web and media are rich sources of the stories of eye witnesses. We will not forget.
I watched a veteran remember that day in the documentary: Normandy--Surviving D-Day. His name was Hal Bombeck. Hal had the option of changing the name of his religion on his dog tags in case he fell into enemy hands; it would have given him a better chance of surviving. He didn't change the name of his religion; in fact, he drew a large, yellow Star of David on the back of his jacket; with "The Bronx, New York;" so they'd have no trouble identifying him. Hal is Jewish.
Jews were a special target of hatred by the Nazis, along with other groups, including the disabled, who had been the first to be experimented on and exterminated.
For the Nazi's, living was for the Aryan race--selective breeding-- selected survival. Anyone different or deficient was simply done away with. They managed this with so little protest from their own population by deliberately "hardening" them to accept the unacceptable.
There are lessons we must learn from history and not forget, especially when learning them cost so many so much. And yet...
Why they died?
Dave Hingsburger wrote a post on his blog, Rolling Around in My Head in which he referred to Denmark's proud boast that they will be "Downs Syndrome free by 2030" (see The Globe and Mail: Deselecting our Children.)
My initial reaction was one of mourning and sadness, but the Globe and Mail article challenges our hypocrisy in condemning Denmark, when in North America "90% of Downs Syndrome babies are aborted."
This morning I stood in the hallway outside my office. On the walls hang several portraits of people with disabilities I've known and who have passed on. I often pause before one or other of the photos and remember the lives of the people they represent. All of them were institutionalized for many decades of the one precious life they had to live.
Jim's face has the recognizable features of Downs Syndrome. When I gaze at his face I see joy. I remember his mischief, and see his gentleness and humour. I remember that this face could transform into an equally clear expression of displeasure. His words were few, and he got along just fine without needing too many.
I touch the faces as I remember them. Each person affected my life in some way and I will always be humbled and grateful that their lives crossed mine.
They endured. They survived. And with such grace, where surely I would have been bitter.They seized life in freedom with gusto and joy; visible; present; part of "us."
But it seems a genetic marker is a target for elimination as clear as the Star of David on Hal Bombeck's back.
We don't forget...
Why they died.