The Promise Tree
There are countless people who have affected my life, who I have never met. I know some of their names, while other names I will never know - the people who designed, made and packaged the laptop where I store my daily thoughts and reflections; the author whose writing saw me through some of the most difficult decisions in life; the person who cared for my daughter just after my emergency C-section; and a woman who used the power of the word to tell the tale of her family’s demise in the Holocaust—Sonia Schreiber Weitz.
Sonia weitz's story came to me through Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit organization with which I work to help teach others about history’s darker moments, in the hope of bettering ourselves and our world. The intent is to consciously revisit our collective pains of the past, examine the mistakes people made or atrocities they committed, and avoid making those same mistakes in the future. We also explore the brave choices that were made, and honor those who stood up for justice in the face of darkness. Sonia, a victim of the Holocaust, was one of those brave people.
Weitz's story is like those of many who endured horrific treatment based on hatred due to group membership (in this case, the Jewish community). In her book, I Promised I Would Tell, Weitz's fulfills the oath she made before her mother’s death, which was to share their experiences with the world. For a year now, I have been sharing Weitz's story, and though I never met her, I feel as though she is a dear friend. So when I received the news about her recent passing, I felt compelled to do something in her honor.
This semester, my students and I will be building a Promise Tree, an art project that will evolve in our classroom at Bryant & Stratton College, Eastlake. It will be imperfect, to be sure, but so is history—and so are we. It will stand as a symbol for continuing to fulfill not only Weitz’s promise, but perhaps those promises that were made during other painful partings—those experienced by enslaved Africans en route to the Americas, countless Native American peoples during relocation and forced “education,” and all those who have been victims of hatred based on perceived differences. We promise to remember, to retell and to honor the legacies of those who have been wronged. We promise to lay a more conscious foundation for the future generations. We promise to begin with ourselves.
Sonia Weitz had no way of knowing what kinds of ripples she would create when she published her book, but she did it anyway—to fulfill her promise. The power of this decision is not lost on me. Perhaps I will never meet those whose lives I may change — they may never know my name, but I will send the messages anyway, through my writing, through my actions, to fulfill my promise. You never know whom they might reach.
Weitz, S. S. I Promised I Would Tell. Brookline, MA: Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, Inc., 1993.
Mary Carroll Courtwright teaches psychology, sociology, and philosophy courses at Bryant & Stratton College in Eastlake. Her novel, Song of the Messenger (2007) is set in Cleveland Heights. For more information, visit www.marycourtwright.com.