“We’re all somewhat courageous, and we’re all considerably cowardly. We’re all imperfect, and life is simply a perpetual, unending struggle against those imperfections.”
― “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography”
Nearly 25 years ago, the late legendary icon Sidney Poitier shared those words of wisdom having lived a life that embodied such insight. He recognized through his experience that we were all fallible creatures, given to shortcomings and flights of fancy, nonetheless valuable and essential, regardless of our status in life.
Over the last two years since the beginning and subsequent end of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have all been rated and/or measured against those individuals known as, “essential workers.” However, for many, we questioned the validity and danger of such divisive words.
After all, what makes someone ‘essential’?
The dictionary defines essential to be “of, relating to, or constituting essence: inherent. : of the utmost importance : basic, indispensable, necessary.” In other words, what no one could do without. Truth is that
those years were not the first time those in leadership had used the term ‘essential worker’ in reference to a specific group. That phrase has disturbing connotations that go back almost 100 years ago.
In 1994 we were given an unforgettable glimpse into one of the bloodiest and horrific times in world history, as we had a front row seat to the genesis moments of an attempted genocide.
In director Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed film “Schindler’s List,” America comes face to face with the horrors that were the patchwork of the greatest slaughter known to man. Based on the true story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, it chronicles his shrewd business dealings as he seized an opportunity to benefit from the highly profitable business of war.
Enter the Essential Worker!
In an attempt to cut costs, Schindler begins employing the Jewish prisoners, and labels them “essential workers,” in order to get them past the watchful eye of the Nazi soldiers, herding all Jews into “concentration camps.” In a most memorable scene from the film, a one-armed worker is taken from the main group of Jews shoveling snow, and led to the side of the road (this was the same man incidentally, that wanted to thank Schindler personally for giving him a job) as the old man repeatedly told the German soldiers that he was “an essential worker.”
Moments later, those same soldiers shoot him in the head as men, women and children look on. In yet another horrific scene, a German captain (Goeth) is urged to address an issue that his soldier (Hujar) has with yet another “essential worker” in the form a woman named Diana Reiter.
The conversation goes as follows:.
Reiter: “Herr Kommandant! The entire foundation has to be torn down and repoured. If not, there will be at least a subsidence at the southern end of the barracks. Subsidence, and then collapse.”
Goeth: “And you are an engineer?”
Reiter: “Yes. My name is Diana Reiter. I’m a graduate of Civil Engineering from the University of Milan.”
Goeth: “Ah, an educated Jew … like Karl Marx himself. Unterscharführer!”
Goeth: “Shoot her.”
Reiter: “Herr Kommandant! I’m only trying to do my job!”
Goeth: “Ja, and I’m doing mine.”
Hujar: “Sir, she’s foreman of construction.”
Goeth: “We’re not going to have arguments with these people.” [Hujar starts to drag Reiter away; Goeth stops him]
Goeth: “No. Shoot her here, on my authority.”
Reiter: “It will take more than that …”
Goeth: “I’m sure you’re right.”
[Reiter is shot in the head]
Goeth: “Take it down, repour it, rebuild it, like she said.”
While there were more than 1,200 Jews that were saved from death by Oskar Schindler, there were some in that number that tragically, did not live to see that liberation. Not because of some wrong they’d committed or some crime they had committed; they were simply born Jews.
If we are to learn anything from this, it should be that value is in the eye of the beholder, and that you are essential to others, until they no longer require or desire what you once brought to the table.
What of the millions “essential workers” during COVID?
Remember the ones we praised and thanked with every breath and opportunity, “thank you for your service?” How many hospital workers, law enforcement officers and retail employees that were seemingly celebrated as valuable and ‘essential,’ suddenly found themselves treated as inconsequential and obsolete, because they refused to inject their bodies and the bodies of their children with a non-FDA approved vaccine?
Has America learned from history’s lesson concerning the worth of the ‘essential worker?’ Stay tuned.
Read part two HERE.