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The Worth of People
Yesterday January 27, 2014 was International Holocaust Remembrance Day as designated by the United Nations. The day was marked by celebrations around the world in places ranging from London, Istanbul, Moscow, and Washington DC among others. The day of Remembrance was established by the United Nations on November 1, 2005. It is designed to remember the awful events of the Nazi regime from 1938 to 1945 which resulted in the murder of approximately 6 million Jews, Gypsies, and political undesirables in Nazi Germany.
I have to admit while I was growing up I was not exposed to Jewish culture. So there are others in this community who are better versed about Jewish culture. If you are interested in Jewish culture or practices ask Shoshana or Thas, either of them are easy to talk too and will gladly answer you questions. I have learned that one can ask them anything and get thoughtful answers.They are a wonderful resource in TUDiabetes community.
So after admitting that I have almost no information about Jewish culture and religion I am going to write about something that is not in my wheel house. But I hope the reader will stay with me even if you discount my views.
I first encountered Jewish people in college. I signed up for chemistry and ran headlong into one of my memorable teachers. Her name is Dr. Ruth Hanig (AKA Reverend Ruth Hanig ). Dr. Hanig was about 4’9” and a fireball of a person. Officially she taught chemistry, but to say she taught is an understatement of what she did. In fact she preached chemistry. Standing on a box she toted from classroom to classroom she professed her understanding of chemistry using hands, voice, eyes and her ever present overhead projector. Students would listen to the Dr. Hanig for one hour (often it went two) twice per week. Then to figure out what she was saying we would go on Friday to talk to the teaching assistant. Dr. Hanig never slowed down and never took questions. She could not be interrupted and she told us on the first day to not interrupt her. It was surreal.
As you can imagine she was one of the most unique teachers I have ever encountered. But she also had another part of her class. Dr. Hanig was a holocaust survivor. At least one class period each semester she stopped teaching chemistry and gave us a more lasting and important lesson.
She entered the camp at Dachau along with her family in June 1939. Her family consisted of her mother, father, two sisters and two brothers of varying age. Her father was separated from her family upon admission to the camp. She never saw him again. She was nine years old and eventually placed in a sub camp which doubled as a munitions factory. Eventually her family was narrowed down to one of her sisters and her. Her sister died of malnutrition in 1943. She was liberated in August of 1944, alone and at age 14 she had no family.
She made her way to a relief agency and eventually to America where she was united with people she did not know. On the trip to America she met a young man who eventually became her husband and together they earned Ph.D.’s, hers in Chemistry and his in Literature. Her husband had similar experiences and he also taught at Indiana University
After earning her Ph.D. at Indiana University she worked as a research Chemist for a large agricultural corporation and along the way she improved food production in the world. As part of her lecture on concentration camps she would show the tattooed number on her neck. Once you saw it was impossible to not look at it.
She was going to follow the path of chemistry no matter if she lived in Germany or America. What stopped her from doing it in Germany was a government policy of racial hatred, supported by a majority of people in Germany. That raises the question what was the cost of her Ph.D.? The cost to America was almost nothing; the cost to Germany was massive. She could and would have been a research chemist in Germany. Dr. Hanig was never upset with the German people but she was upset anytime she heard talk of limited opportunity for students. She would often say don’t judge people by what you think they are; judge them instead for what they accomplish.
Yesterday made me think of Dr. Hanig and her family. The loss to the world of her family was potentially very large. The loss to Germany was a brilliant academic mind. We must remember that when public policy denies people (any people including diabetics) the opportunity to be who they can be the cost is overwhelming.