Friday Night Lights and the Warsaw Ghetto

Feeling restless this past Friday evening, I decided to walk to the nearby high school stadium to watch the local football team take on an area rival under the bright lights and in the cool autumn air. It wasn’t considered a huge matchup. I’d heard the hometown boys were having a great season, mowing down opponents with ease. This proved to be the case as they routed the competition 48-14.

After returning home and still feeling restless, I found myself caught up in the middle of the “The Pianist”, a movie I’ve seen several times. I find it both powerful and horrifying. I’m always mesmerized by the lengths human beings will go to in order to break the spirits of others, but also by the spirit of those unwilling to be broken. Wladyslaw Szpilman is the main character through which we see the destruction perpetrated by the Nazis on the capital of Poland. Each new scene presents another step closer to the annihilation of both his family and his community. The Szpilman family finds few moments of peace as their world continues to shrink from border restrictions and imposing regulations. I found myself in their heads, their thoughts, imagining they would find things better, if not the next day, then perhaps the day after, and, therefore, just waiting it out. It’s a sense of hope that seems hard to sustain under such circumstances. Wladyslaw continues playing the piano, similar to an inmate fixing a bicycle in his prison cell. It’s an attempt at normalcy, just like the last meal he and his family share, a piece of caramel candy, prior to deportation.

This is hardly meant to be analogous, but I thought about the over-matched competition from the football game earlier that evening, hoping against hope that they could somehow find a way to beat such a formidable opponent. And at what point does the clock become your best friend? When all is lost, I believe certain individuals of the soon-to-be-vanquished will try to find a small victory by trying to make one last big play to boost personal stats. Similarly, in a place like the Warsaw Ghetto, I imagine that’s what happens when the only chance you have is the one you take for yourself. Someone will go out in a blaze of glory, boldly striking out at the aggressor one last time in hopes of breaking free.

When it comes to a football game, you know the clock will end the agony and everyone can just go home and forget about it. But if you’re part of a ghetto uprising, where everyone is scrounging for both food and weapons, while trying to stay one step ahead of the Germans, you’re stuck trying to make a go of it until the finalist of all final outcomes.

Football is football. And life under Nazism or another form of tyranny is something else all together. But it seems striking to realize how both comfortably and systematically we pattern our world around conflict and aggression, placing ourselves in trying situations and teaching our children to push back against tranquility. I suppose it has something to do with achieving a higher purpose for a greater good. But whether it’s some poor high school kid fumbling away the ball or a war-weary Polish resister jumping from a bombed out building to his death, I’m quite grateful knowing it wasn’t me making a turnover or speeding toward the pavement below. I tend to believe the competing forces between good and evil push the majority of us to the hidden corners or the sidelines, courage being a fairly rare commodity.


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