"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

The Importance of Bearing Witness

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 12
Publish Date: 
Thu, 05/08/2014


There are childhood memories so penetrating, they run like movie reels in the mind’s eye, molding our character.


My vintage 8mm features my European-born grandmother turning tearful and tongue-tied upon mention of her family, lost in the Holocaust.  Her heartbreak, and the gruesome photos I ogled in my parents’ edition of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” were literally mind-boggling.


When I was thirteen, Holocaust survivor Gerda Klein appeared in my biopic, helping me Think Again about the unfathomable.


Like a narrator, she recounted her death-defying odyssey from an idyllic childhood through ghettos, slave-labor camps, and a three-month “death march” en route to liberation by the American officer who became her husband. 


Her story teaches that hope is powerful and morality is a choice – even in the face of monstrous evil. Most importantly, bearing witness to good and evil is the way a moral people deliver a better world to our children because, as fellow survivor Elie Wiesel stresses, “Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”


Without memory, there would also be no freedom, as Klein movingly reminded the star-studded audience upon winning the Oscar for her documentary “One Survivor Remembers.”


Recalling that in the camps “winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day,” she urged the glamorous crowd to honor the memory of “those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home,” by returning home aware that those “who know the joy of freedom are winners.”


Boredom was a luxury in Nazi Germany, where a door knock could herald a Gestapo arrest. That was German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fate after promoting truth to power, and trying to hold the powerful accountable to truth. Executed near war’s end, his famous exhortation endures: “Silence in the face of evil is evil…. Not to act is to act.”


Despite the efforts of humanitarians like Klein, Wiesel and Bonhoeffer, the obligation to speak and act out against inhumanity is not universally practiced -- especially when “women’s reproductive health” is at stake.


It’s unimaginable that any side of the reproductive health debate could tolerate the barbarity of Dr. Kermit Gosnell and his unlicensed staff who preyed on low-income and minority women.


Yet for 31 years, the public’s guardians -- regulators, politicians, and health care providers -- averted their eyes and abandoned their duties, allowing a virtual Dr. Mengele to openly and profitably operate an unsanitary, Auschwitz-like health facility in Philadelphia where countless women suffered maiming, infection or worse.


According to the grand jury report that advanced Gosnell’s murder conviction, he “regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” as did his employees. 


The grand jury faulted seemingly indifferent government officials who “literally licensed Gosnell’s criminally dangerous behavior” by refusing “to treat abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical facilities.” Their inaction was action, and a reminder that morality is a choice when otherwise ordinary people commit appalling acts, as in Nazi Germany.


Committed to telling the story both Hollywood and the media have avoided, witness-bearing journalists and filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney are days away from completing the largest ever crowd-funding campaign for a movie. From donations averaging $95, they’ll have raised at least $2.1 million at www.gosnellmovie.com.


Like “In Cold Blood” – another true story about callous murderers – the filmmakers believe the story of Gosnell, America’s most prolific serial killer, will reverberate in the nation’s conscience.


Apparently the conscience of Texas state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is stirring, after she rocketed to national stardom for filibustering legislation (later passed) designed to promote women’s reproductive health by preventing other Gosnell’s.


Less restrictive than European laws, the Texas bill includes an abortion ban after 20 weeks, with exceptions for fetal abnormalities and a threat to the woman’s life -- which Davis now favors. That Davis is evolving testifies to the power of bearing witness to society’s lessons.


In her famous commentary on the Adolf Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the conformist tendencies of people who don’t consider the consequences of their actions or inactions.  “The sad truth,” Arendt wrote, “is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”


My grandmother told a parable about a precocious boy who asked his rabbi whether a bird in his hand was dead or alive.  Hoping to inspire humanity, the rabbi replied, “I don’t know; it’s in your hands.”


Think Again – Isn’t remembering and telling stories the best way to influence the movie reels in our children’s minds, helping them make moral choices that fortify a healthy society?


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I have to admit - after

I have to admit - after reading the introduction, I was fully expecting this article to be about the abducted school children in Nigeria. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the global response.

Anyways, just thought I'd say that, at least as I remember it, Wendy Davis was opposed to the Texas legislation because of its implications on the number of abortion clinics in the state. With the law now enacted, it is expected that only six of the more than 40 clinics in the state will still be open by September. In my mind, this only increases the likelihood of other Gosnells popping up. As you mentioned in the article, Gosnell preyed on minority and low-income women. These are the same people that now have no one to turn to (at least that operate legally) in Texas. Many are now going to Mexico. How is this preferable?

Melanie, Your article on the

Your article on the importance of "Bearing Witness" is an idea that needs to be emphasized in today's culture. Your quote of Elie Wiesel, "Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future" contradicts the modern, out with the old, in with the new attitudes. It is obvious in art, music, movie plots and the written that the past is past.

Thank God for guys like Elie Wiesel who are determined to keep the past before us that we might avoid tragedy. In the Old Testament God instructs Moses repeatedly to remind the Jewish people that He had rescued them from the slavery of Egypt, that His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was still in effect and.....if they would obey Him they would avoid the mistakes of the previous generation that landed Israel in trouble.

The reader of Deuteronomy 29 & 30 sees the past and visualizes the future, based on obedience to things written in the past for their benefit. Bottom line, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life." Hopefully some will learn from the horror of Gosnell's victims. Keep up your good work.
Bob Cross

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