Friday, June 17, 2011

Inspiring obituaries

The past couple of weeks have offered several inspiring obituaries, and I don't want to gloss over them in a Various and Sundry post.

As I did last week when I highlighted the obituary for Albertina Sisulu, the mother of the anti-apartheid movement. If you didn't read the obituary then, well, I commend it to you again.

This obituary was shortly followed by one for Clara Luper, the woman who, along with the youth of the NAACP, staged lunchcounter sit-ins in Oklahoma City, 18 months before the more famous ones in Greensboro, SC.

As often happens, the obit ends with a punch:

"[Her father] used to tell us that someday he would take us to dinner and to parks and zoos,” she said. “And when I asked him when was someday, he would always say, ‘Someday will be real soon,’ as tears ran down his cheeks.”
What an amazing gift she gave her father, to help bring that about.

Finally, another inspiring obit for someone I'd never heard of: Mietek Pemper who "typed up the list which helped Oskar Schindler save 1,200 Jews from the Nazis." Well, it was more than that, actually.
In the summer of 1944, as the war turned against them, Pemper found out that the Nazis were intending to close any factories which were not dedicated to the war effort. Realising that this would probably result in the Jews at Plaszow being transferred to Auschwitz, at great personal risk he persuaded Schindler to switch to making anti-tank grenades, and together the two men laid plans to secure a transfer of the enterprise, with as many Jewish workers as possible, away from the camp at Plaszow to a new factory in Bruennlitz in Czechoslovakia. It was Pemper who compiled the famous typed list of 1,200 Jews to be recruited for work “decisive for the Nazi war effort” and transferred to the new factory.
All of which tells me that no great act of justice is done by a single superhero. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Oskar Schindler were not able to do the work they did on their own.

The Pemper obit makes this point as well, again with a punch at the end:
Pemper’s role was played down in the film, but he did not seem to mind, arguing that the “crucial accomplishment’’ was not the list itself but “the multifarious acts of resistance that, like tiny stones being placed into a mosaic one by one, had made the whole process possible.’’
What stone do you have to offer?

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