Keeping the Past in Perspective to Love Our Neighbours in the Present

Photo by Matthias Zomer on
 on March 18, 2022

When I was a child, my parents would sometimes leave me in the care of my great auntie, who was like a grandma to me. Mum and Dad worked long hours and this dear old lady lived close.

Michael CorenShe was from what is now Ukraine, seemed very foreign and absolutely wonderful, and we all called her Bubba. She spoke little English, and while our linguistic communication was limited—her first languages were Yiddish and Russian—our common conversation was love. I could feel it in the way she laughed with me, played with me, sat with me.

Sometimes I’d catch her looking in my direction. Even then, long before I could read a proper book or understand the proper world, I could tell that behind the smiles there was something deeper, perhaps sadder, at work.

She always wore dresses that covered the entirety of her arms, but as a lady of a former time this seemed unsurprising. Then, one hot July day, she absent-mindedly rolled up her sleeves and I noticed something. “What’s that, bubba?” I asked excitedly. It was the only time she ever seemed upset, even angry with me. She replied that it was nothing, pulled down her sleeves and turned away.

I thought I’d hurt her somehow, and I might even have had tears in my eyes. All I remember is that she immediately lifted me up and hugged me tighter than ever, in an embrace that seemed like protection and grace personified.

It wasn’t until long after she died and I was a teenager that I was finally told Bubba’s story. She had been in a death camp, and the mark on her arm was a tattoo. The Nazis sadistically scraped them into the arms of their chosen victims so as to dehumanize them before they were tortured and murdered. She survived, but many of her family and friends did not.

Millions of innocent people were taken from their homes and killed, their bodies destroyed—children, babies, anybody who didn’t fit in with the filthy vision of the satanic new order. It’s all been told before, and by people far more qualified to relate such a tale of unparalleled evil.

The reason I mention this is that there is an increasing and repugnant fetish within the anti-vaccination movement. They reject science and truth, they’re often irrational, but now they’ve gone even further. They are comparing their experience to that of the victims of Nazism. They speak of the entirely ethical and admirable COVID-19 vaccination campaign as being “Nazi-like”; they casually throw around the word holocaust; they even wear yellow stars at demonstrations, and display that image on their social media pages. The yellow star that my Bubba was forced to wear.

How dare they? How in the name of the living God dare they! They insult—they desecrate—the memory of those who suffered and died, and they do it with an obscene absence of self-awareness and sensitivity. They are using genocide as a political ploy in their campaign, playing with the horror of all that screaming and weeping. Once again, how dare they!

This pandemic will eventually be overcome, and the victors will be the scientists, the medical staff, and the vast majority of ordinary, good, ethical people who were part of the great and communal movement to help save all of us.

But those who trod on the mass graves of the persecuted will not suddenly disappear. Their attitudes will continue, waiting to be awakened and empowered in some future crisis. I follow a Messiah who told us to forgive, and indeed I do so. But to forget is something different. The human condition has always lived with this brokenness—this virus, if you like—and that’s not going to change. Alas, there is no vaccination against cruelty. But while we may not be able to expunge this nonsense, we can at least be aware of it.

We have to promote reconciliation, we have to empathize with those with whom we disagree, and we have to listen to people who have radically different points of view. But this is surely different. Refusing to be vaccinated hurts others, especially the elderly and vulnerable. I simply cannot see what is Christian about that. Believe me, I’ve heard all of their arguments, often thrown at me with abuse and insult. They are wrong, oh so wrong.

Truth, justice, education, kindness, and care are essential right now. I know that because of faith, my humanity, and because I was taught so long ago. By my wonderful, unforgettable Bubba.

  • Michael Coren

    The Reverend Michael Coren is the author of 18 books, several of them best-sellers, translated into a dozen languages. He hosted daily radio and TV shows for almost 20 years, and is now a Contributing Columnist for the Toronto Star, and appears regularly in the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, The Oldie, ipaper, TVOntario, The New Statesman, and numerous other publications in Canada and Britain. He has won numerous award and prizes across North America. He is a priest at St. Luke’s, Burlington. His latest book is The Rebel Christ.

    [email protected]
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