Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Staying Fresh

Jim Schram, the principal in our contracting company, Winter-Schram Associates, found himself staring at a man in a picture in the camp room of the new Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. “He looks so much like my great grandfather,” Jim told me. It was one of those rare conversations we’ve had when the press of construction details didn’t squeeze out any other conversation topics.

The graphics displays had only recently been fitted into their glass frames, and it was the first time any of us involved in the project had a chance to appreciate their impact.

Jim’s ancestor had not, in fact, been touched by the Holocaust. “You must be accustomed to this because you see it every day,” Jim said to me, “But it’s really powerful to me.”

In fact, I was having my own experience, regardless of my every day contact with the images. I had been studying the face of a boy, just a bit younger than my own son, in a blow-up of a picture whose original was preserved in the Auschwitz Album. These photographs had been taken over two days in 1944. Nazi photographers captured a Hungarian transport as it arrived and as its human contents lined up and sorted for work or death.

For a fleeting instant the boy appeared in 3-D and seemed to bob his head. I saw him as he was at the moment the Nazi shutter snapped.

I told Jim what I had just seen, and then: “When it does become routine, that’s when it will be time to quit.”

As for the boy in the picture, we can’t measure the tragedy of his murder. Not only was he denied life; the Nazis deprived him a grave and even a name that could be remembered. But they gave him a photograph. For me and the hundreds of thousands who will see his picture, if we really see his picture, he’ll remind us we can’t quit working for a world of actors, not bystanders. A world of caring, not apathy. A world where humans can maintain their humanity.

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