There is a legend in Masonic lore about the Forget-me-not and its role in Nazi Germany. The legend says that the Masonic order was threatened by Hitler and the Nazi regime and that they wore the forget-me-not pin as a means of identification during the Third Reich’s treacherous years. This legend, in a number of variations, is perpetuated with heartfelt stories of those days.
There are certainly challenges in the story – no one would have been permitted to wear any pin not specifically sanctioned by the Nazis once they came to power. The legend also has people in concentration camps wearing it to be able to identify each other in those terrible conditions. In a concentration camp, any pin – any metal – would have meant terrible things, most likely death of the person(s) wearing the pin.
A little researching brought out the story about the winter “charity” drive collected by the Nazis which they implied would be used to help people in need, but which was actually used to help fund weaponry. This annual drive featured pins given to those who had donated so that they would not be required to do so a second time. One year, the Nazis picked this little flower pin for that collection, using an existing mold at a local foundry. Here the story gets a little Masonic – the foundry had the mold because in 1928 this pin was used as a secondary “brotherly friendship” pin. The Masons who had these pins would likely have worn them during this collection period to avoid this “charitable tax,” but probably not after that time. Sometime after the war, these pins became symbolic of the clash between modern Masonic ideals and the now known practices of the Nazis.
There were certainly “Old Prussian” lodges that supported Hitler and would not admit Jews. There were also documented clashes between Lodges of other countries that were open to all having challenges with some German lodges over the admittance and treatment of Masons who were Jewish (and other non-Christians). It is not my purpose here to delve into any of these issues and the related truth and rewriting of legend, other than very peripherally as it relates to the point I am seeking to explore in this particular blog.
There are several important pieces that fell together over the last few days. The events spanned many years, but as is often the case in such insight moments, it was the interconnectedness that sparked the topic. It started with a veteran telling about his military and masonic experiences in post-War Germany and his own experience of the forget-me-not. What struck me the most of his talk was something that he said happened just a few years back.
He related that he was telling his story at a Holocaust Survivors event one day. After his talk, a couple of women survivors came up to him and explained to him that part of the story could not be true: no one could survive the camps wearing such a pin. Instead, one of the women explained, they would weave a single blue thread in their prisoner clothing to identify each other. Before you say anything – it is most likely that these women would have been members of Eastern Star, one of the coed Masonic-related orders.
Yes, there were Eastern Star members who would have been Jewish back then, and certainly such a means of identification might have been possible, although even that would have been bold and a measure of defiance in the camps.
Part two: the anniversary of the internment of American citizens who were of Japanese ancestry along with other Japanese immigrants in the wake of Pearl Harbor at places like Manzanar. For a youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fqd-Kh_zpdA
For a view of Manzanar today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb4EeFEV5zM
For a brief talk by George Takei on this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yogXJl9H9z0
What struck me in my research on Manzanar and similar camps was the differences and the similarities of the pictures with what was happening at the same time in Germany. Here are some pictures of the rounding up and internment at Manzanar.
Yes, there are vast differences – and yet, it also opens a window, perhaps, into the mindset of that time – that people thought it was okay to round up citizens and others and put them in camps. It may possibly explain why Americans and others were not as horrified as some of us might have wanted them to be at what was happening in Germany.
I find it most disturbing that events such as these are not taught to our children. It is hard to find much at all about such times and events in American history. Manzanar and similar camps are just the tip of the iceberg on things we have done as a country that are not shining examples. However, we risk so much by not teaching about these things and making sure that their “Never Again” is just as important as others. When we ignore such things, we make it possible for history to repeat itself.
This leaves the question of how should we teach and treat such things? I talked today at the Four Chaplains Service at Veteran’s Park that we are a country that has made the commitment to keep working on our ideals and make America the country it can be. We are not there yet – there are still too many injustices and fears and prejudices rampant today – but we are better than we were. And we are still working on it.
Part 3: From my Tucson days. There was a group of German officers who came and spent a painful and yet healing day talking with survivors. Much of the activities that day centered around the Jewish History Museum in Tuscon and I was on their Board. I spent a fair amount of the day talking with several of those officers as one of the organizers of the event. The conversation that has stuck with me the most out of that day was a bit of candor from one of the senior officers.
He was talking about how, particularly in the military, they struggle with how Germans could have been complicit in such things, recognizing full well that the military played key roles in making it all happen. For him, such things do not sit well with his own perception of the things that define German identity (today). To him, allowing someone like Hitler and his ilk to come to power and do such devastation, would be unthinkable. While we might wonder why there was not more resistance, he wondered why there was not more objection and resistance on the part of the general population and its leaders. He was part of a group that was working to see what needs to be done to put safeguards in place so that such a thing could not happen again in Germany.
Part 4: Talking with a colleague in Bern, Germany. We were talking about the forget-me-not pin, what is likely true, what is likely post-war legend building. She, too, is the daughter of survivors, only she was raised in Germany after the War. She is also a member of Eastern Star and comes from a family that has a long Masonic tradition. Interestingly, the service organizations in Europe are struggling in many of the same ways that such groups struggle here in the US.
When I related the story about the survivors and the blue thread, she paused for a moment and we talked about resourcefulness in extremely adverse circumstances. She could see such a means of identification being used and being a source of strength for prisoners. Today, she could see it as an important piece to relate to others as well. Today, that bit of possibility will become part of a shared identity for those that will hear about it and incorporate it.
Conclusion: All of the parts are different bits and pieces that connect to how each of us shapes and molds our own identities. We each have multiple and our identities serve very important basic needs of our being. We construct our identities out of who and what we are and do, both in the past and in the present time. We add depth and character by acknowledging the challenges, sifting through our own legends, as well as the things we wish could have been true and are not. When we build a true identity, it is not perfect, yet it is perfectly us.
We all have more to learn, more to improve. Good judgement comes from experience. Often, experience comes from poor judgement, sometimes from simple errors or happenstance. When we own the different possibilities and work toward being who and what we truly want to be and can be, then we are doing the most important part of healthy identity work, even Godly work.
Thanks for reading!