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Published: Saturday, 1/22/2005

Harry: The pain of Nazi evil endures

BY CAROL SCHUCK SCHEIBER
Carol Schuck Scheiber Carol Schuck Scheiber
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POOR Prince Charles. He was "incandescent with rage" at his 20-year-old son, Harry, for not knowing better than to dress up like a Nazi at a costume party.

I'm not usually given to sympathy for the royals. Their lives are so rarefied and atypical that, unlike the tabloid press, I don't give them much thought. But for the moment, I can sympathize a bit with Charles.

He badly needs to have a heart-to-heart with his son. Apparently it didn't occur to Harry that not so long ago the Nazis almost ran his own nation into the ground.

Like so many of us, Harry has no sense of history. And like so many of us who managed to be born after it was all over, he doesn't understand the massive suffering the Nazis inflicted. He doesn't realize that those wounds have not entirely healed.

In many ways they are fresh, raw, sore, and aching because so much grief, death, and destruction takes many generations to heal.

Harry's grandmother remembers, I'm sure, that the London blitz tested the hardiest of souls. And he must know that just across the English channel, the now peaceful countryside of Europe housed unspeakable Nazi death camps.

It happened a few generations ago, yes, but some of those who lived through it, those who carry the scars, are still alive. They and their offspring tell us not to forget. They remind us that we must honor the dead and the survivors by not trivializing the Nazi era.

Maybe Harry's too young to "get it." There's a lot I didn't get when I was 20. But one thing I do get is that the pain of others is real.

Even when we forget it's there, and we're trying to get on with life, it is unmistakably there.

Even when it's quiet and subterranean, it's there, Harry.

The mass suffering the Nazis unleashed still matters to lots of people. We would do well to recognize that the pain hasn't disappeared. We do well to honor the memory of those who were forced into exile, who lost loved ones, who were tortured, starved, or killed.

I was about 20 myself when I first started to grasp that painful experiences often exist just below the surface of life. (I guess I was lucky to be sheltered for so long.)

One moment in particular stands out. I had just returned to work after being gone for a few days to bury my grandmother. My grandma - who spent countless hours babysitting my four siblings and me so my mom could earn extra cash as a substitute teacher. My grandma - who was so lovingly gullible that we played practical joke after practical joke on her. My grandma - who made stuffed cabbage and kielbasa for Sunday dinners and glowed with delight when a Pole became pope. My grandma - whose final weeks were riddled with pain from stomach cancer.

I missed my grandma. We had just laid her in the ground and said our prayers. Her death was part of the natural order, of course. She was in her 70s, the older generation, an elder of our family's tribe. But to have her gone from the face of the earth made me cry inside.

I went out for a walk at lunchtime, and I looked at the faces of the people on the street. How many of them, I wondered to myself, were mourning the death of someone they loved? How many held a river of tears just beneath the surface of their work-a-day faces? Who knows what joys and sorrows were lurking inside, I thought to myself.

It was a simple observation, a truism that might even be a little simplistic. But I "got it" for the first time because now I had gone through this rite of passage. I, too, was mourning a loved one.

I don't know why young Harry ignored this reality when he donned the swastikas for a costume party. After all, he hasn't led a life free from sorrow. His mother died while he was a kid. And it must hurt that his father's infidelities were a media sensation before that.

So certainly Harry hasn't been sheltered from pain. He just wasn't thinking about the particular pain that Nazis represent when he prepared for his party.

He's a prince of England; he needs to think about these things. The rest of the world - the non-royal world, the non-celebrity world - can make such mistakes without the same level of public contempt. I trample on somebody's sorrow and I might get an angry retort. But at least I won't make the headlines like Harry.

Oh, Harry, Charles might tell his son in their much-needed heart-to-heart talk, there's a world of pain. Don't dwell in it. Go ahead and have fun, make a party, share some laughs with your friends.

But at the same time, know your history, walk through Auschwitz, and honor the legacy of what happened there. Honor the people who died, Harry. Remember Anne Frank cowering in an attic until the Nazis snuffed out her lovely 15-year-old heart. Never forget. Just below the surface of our laughter there might be a river of tears.

Carol Schuck Scheiber is a free-lance writer who lives in Toledo.



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