Days of Holocaust Remembrance: Different Trains
by Bob Schwartz
Monday was Yom HaShoah, the Day of Remembrance for victims and heroes of the Holocaust. In the United States, the entire week marks the National Days of Remembrance.
The phenomenon of the Holocaust has demanded the work of historians and others to record and chronicle. That mission moves ahead, and every year—more than seventy years later—adds new dimensions to the story. It has also demanded the work of activists, whose mission is transform the basest experiences into a brighter and more humane future.
But the artists are different kinds of workers and alchemists. They know that when we read or hear the details, or see the photos, we are apt put up a psychic wall, because we can take only so much. Enough: we are human, as were the victims and the masters of madness. Artists approach us, and the Holocaust, differently. Even if our psyches want to put up a wall, to give us some rest from the onslaught, we don’t know where to build it. So we are tricked into watching, listening, and learning in a different way with different senses.
Steve Reich is one of the masters of modern music. He composed a suite, Different Trains, inspired by the Holocaust. Each of the three movements represents the experience before, during and after the War.
Here is a YouTube video of a performance of the second movement, Different Trains – Europe-During the War. The composition features the recorded voices of Holocaust survivors.
If you are a Spotify user, you can listen to Different Trains.
At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., there is an actual train car used to transport Jews (above). This extraordinary museum contains artifacts and educational displays, the cumulative effect of which can be overwhelming. You might feel your spirit broken, tears in your eyes, and then, miraculously, your spirit begins to be healed, a little.
That’s why we have the historians, the activists and the artists. They are the doctors dedicated to healing the soul of a badly wounded world and trying to make sure it doesn’t get so sick, ever again.