Last week I visited Auschwitz with UU Service Committee staff, board members, and partners. The town—Oswiecim in Polish—seemed very ordinary. The wooded area on its outskirts wore early spring green, pale and luminescent. Our bus passed a Kentucky Fried Chicken, stores, houses and apartment buildings, children at a bus stop.

The Auschwitz entrance facility reminded me of both an airport check-in area and a bus station. After screening, visitors received headphones and were assigned to a guided group. We then walked through a long, dimly lit corridor lined in marble. A recorded voice intoned the names of victims.

Outside again, we passed through the infamous metal arch into the grounds. Exhibit signs in Polish, English, and Hebrew are stark and direct: “Termination Method,” “Exploiting the Corpses.” With guided groups directly ahead and behind, we proceeded through the buildings briskly, with little time to stop and absorb what we were hearing and seeing: brutal facts, piles of luggage, pictures of people—especially children. The images remain with me.

At Block 13 we had a special opportunity to take time seeing a new exhibit documenting and memorializing the Sinti and other Roma people who were exterminated (also referred to as “gypsies,” which many Roma consider a derogatory term). Recent estimates suggest that up to 75 percent of Roma living in Europe lost their lives under the Nazis, a history that has largely been ignored. We saw photographs and read brief biographical sketches: families posing with their musical instruments, children playing in the forest or on a swing, wedding celebrations, and more, accompanied by the names and the date those pictured died at Auschwitz.

We also saw pictures and read brief bios of top Nazi leaders who oversaw the genocide. I stared at their faces. Over one million human beings were exterminated at Auschwitz/Birkenau. I thought about how methodical, systematic, thorough, and merciless their project had been.

Howard Thurman wrote:

The root of the evil, and evil it is, is in the human spirit. . . . The law cannot deal with the human spirit directly. This is not within its universe of discourse. The walls that divide must be demolished, they must be cast down, destroyed, uprooted. There must be ceaseless and unrelenting pressure to that end, using all the resources of our common life.

We came home to our weeping cherry tree in full bloom. May is almost here, and the surrounding woodlands will soon sport their own early spring green. The theme for this month is pluralism. We remind ourselves that every person is sacred and worthy in the fullness of who they are, and that differences of background, culture, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression enlarge and enhance the quality of all lives. I have been reminded how important it is to commit ourselves in the way that Thurman urges us to do.

I am grateful for all that this experience brought me, and I continue to be grateful to be serving as your minister.Janets signature