This article is not about the Holocaust. And so I should be very careful, for those who decry comparisons to the Holocaust have a point. It should never be a trite or passing reference.
I think pro-lifers have a very good case to make for comparing abortion to the Holocaust. The reasons were enumerated here just recently. To begin with, there is the sheer number of deaths. We rehearse the statistics until we are numb, because once we get beyond the number of people your eye can take in at, say, a baseball stadium, or the population of your hometown, can your mind even process the numbers anymore? More pertinent though is the way the deaths go on — not like deaths in war, with public mayhem and blood-curdling screams, surrounded with dust and chaos — but with clinical dispatch, behind, of course, clinic walls. Then there is the way the fact of the deaths has woven itself into the very fabric of our society, shrugged off by many, maybe most, as "just the way it is."
But this is not an article about abortion, either. And so if I am going to dare to compare what I am writing about to the Holocaust — or to abortion — I'd better make a good case. I will, and I will begin with this: if you never knew that the Holocaust happened or that such a thing as abortion went on, and it was my task to tell you in writing, I would consider it only fair to warn you that what I was about to share with you was horrifying in the extreme. If you are very sensitive, especially if you are still in the throes of post-partum mood swings, or if you have lost a child, or if you suffer from depression, this may not be an article you should read.
It is not about abortion or the Holocaust, and it is not about hedgehogs either, but I need to start with hedgehogs — baby ones. Baby hedgehogs are very cute in the way of so many small mammals — fuzzy, pudgy, cuddly miniatures of their parents. The story of four orphan baby hedgehogs who found a substitute mother in a bristly cleaning brush was just so cute that my daughter forwarded it to me by email. These little orphans are being tenderly cared for in a wild animal rescue shelter in England, where they have taken to snuggling up to the cleaning brush that the employees use to sweep the yard. As the article explained:
Manager John Crooks, 41, said: "They are a bit like human babies — they need activities to keep them busy. Because they have very poor eyesight, you have to appeal to their sense of smell and touch by giving them different scents and textures. They like natural scents and have enjoyed playing with our cleaning brushes, soil, leaves, flower pots and the like. They particularly seem to enjoy rubbing against the brush. It may sound odd but I imagine the bristles feel a bit like their mum."
I'll be coming back to that point about how baby hedgehogs are like human babies and baby humans are like baby hedgehogs. Because, even though this is not about the Holocaust or abortion or hedgehogs, it is about human babies. It is about the Romanian orphans.
You might remember the Romanian orphans as one of the many horror stories from behind the Iron Curtain, infants warehoused in rows of cribs, so deprived of stimulation and human contact that they became unable to attach. That was years ago — a nightmare from another time and, surely by now, surely now that Romania has joined the European Union (as of January of this year), the plight of the Romanian orphans can be relegated to the dismal, distant past.
I thought so too, until a few days ago, when I found out that this just is not so. The horrors being visited upon the Romanian orphans are a current, institutionalized brutality that, in violence to the soul and in the complete innocence of its victims, is aptly compared to the Holocaust and to abortion, and in some ways is worse.
A review might be in order here, provided by Operation Help the Children.
The former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu impoverished the nation with various grandiose projects, and starved his people in order to export food. Economic conditions today in Romania remain stagnant, with over one million adults unemployed and the rest are underemployed making the U.S. equivalent of $30 a month. The Romanian medical system is outdated, with minimal infection controls. Needles are reused on patient after patient and nurses have only high school-level training. Many adults and children with less serious illnesses are treated at clinics only to become infected with the AIDS virus as a result of that treatment. Romania itself has no civic tradition, no model for community activism or volunteerism due to communism and the remnants of Ceausescu's tyranny.
In Romania, the orphanages are simply not a priority. Many Romanians are so poor they resent the attention given to the orphans. There is still widespread prejudice against Gypsies, so many Romanians do not wish to adopt or even help the "Gypsy orphans." Most of the "caregivers" in the orphanages are members of the old Ceausescu regime and don't recognize the need for any change in the system. Even in the cleaner orphanages, the ones with new directors and more staff, there is no bonding with the children, no contact, no holding. Babies are swaddled and have bottles propped in their mouths. Many children stay in Romanian orphanages and are not adopted because their parents have yet to give them up formally. As long as a parent visits once every six months, the child cannot be considered abandoned and so cannot be considered for adoption. Some parents promise to come back when the children are older, but statistics show only about 10 percent actually do.
If you can still bear to read, the New York Times of May 10, 2006, relayed the grim conclusions of a report by investigators for Mental Disability Rights International. The article said in part:
[A]bout 9,000 babies are deserted in Romania every year, one of the highest rates in Europe. The country's foster care and adoption programs strain to keep up with the number of children who need their help.
As a result, abandoned children with even mild disabilities and some with none at all are being kept in maternity wards or other hospital-associated institutions until they are old enough to be moved to an orphanage or other institution. In February, investigators for the group found 65 infants, some without any disability, being cared for by three people at a "nutritional recuperation center" in the western city of Timisoara.
The children were confined to their cribs most of the time, the report states. Some of the older ones rocked back and forth, banging their heads or "making the rhythmic sounds from dislocated jaws common in children left lying down for extended periods," the report said.
Researchers described an eerie silence…where [the children] were housed, because "children who do not receive attention when they cry learn to stop crying."
Karen Green McGowan, a registered nurse who assessed many of the children cited in the report, said the early neglect led to disabilities later on, making it likely that many otherwise normal children would end up institutionalized for life.
While the Romanian government claims that only disabled adults are institutionalized,
[t]he report documents several cases of older children, some kept in permanent restraints, in adult facilities, including the St. Pantelimon adult psychiatric hospital in the eastern city of Braila.
[Invesitgators said they] "found 46 children in Braila… that looked like they were from Auschwitz, just skin and bones."
They found bed-ridden teenagers "so emaciated that they looked like they were 3 or 4 years old," their limbs atrophied and contorted from disuse.
Instead of giving the children attention, the report states, the hospital staff tied them down.
After Mental Disability Rights International and a Romanian organization notified the government of the situation, the children were moved to two smaller institutions for children, the report stated. But the more disabled of them remained isolated, without even a bathroom for toilet training. All of them, up to the age of 17, use diapers.
The hope of the investigators for Mental Disability Rights International was that the imminent entrance of Romania into the European Union, where human rights are supposed to be so well attended to and where even baby hedgehogs are cared for and stimulated, would prompt changes in the Romanian orphanages. But, according to Operation Help the Children, today there are over 100,000 abandoned and orphaned children living in state-run, poorly-equipped orphanages and children's hospitals. Very poor parents who take their sick children to the hospital often leave them there permanently.
There are also twenty thousand or more children living on the streets. Many of the street children and teenagers will die of disease, hunger or exposure to the harsh Romanian winter.
Yes, I know that 100,000 is a much smaller number than the number of victims of the Holocaust. But the vast majority of victims of the Holocaust — as much as they suffered, as completely as their human dignity was stripped from them — once knew a loving embrace, eyes that smiled into their own, a stroke of comfort from a friend, a mother's hug. They once lived a human life.
Yes, I know that the number 100,000 is even more dwarfed by the number of victims of abortion. But as terrible as the crime of abortion is, as completely as it robs its tiny victims of every good that life holds, their suffering is over relatively quickly. It does not go on for years and years.
There is something about the horror of the lives of these abandoned children that is so extreme in suffering, so inhumane and awful, that I think it ranks with the greatest evils of our time. The bottom line is that the children of Romania need your help. Operation Help the Children is dedicated to helping as many of the impoverished children of Romania as possible. The following are some of the major projects that they are hoping to fund:
A food emergency fund for OHTC's "Make A Meal A Day" in which volunteers prepare and hand out food to the street orphans. The fund is also for the shipping of non-perishable canned food (such as peanut butter and jelly) that OHTC has in inventory.
Purchasing and shipping important necessities for:
Orphanages: These items include automatic kitchen grinders to grind vegetables and fruits for baby food, automatic juice makers, window fans for the kitchens, foods (sugar, cream of wheat, cereal for ages 0-3), powdered milk, diapers (of various sizes), detergents, soaps, sponges, and one fax machine.
Children's Hospitals: These items include feeding equipment, liquid solutions for external feeding, disinfectants, ventilation equipment and cover-up protective clothing for working with contagious children.
Intensive renovation and improvements of the interior and exterior of the orphanage's plumbing, tiles, interior repairs, replacement of unusable appliances, new showers and other necessary improvements.
Please visit their website: www.OperationHelpRomanianOrphans.org to learn more about Operation Help the Children and their work among the poorest of God's children. You can also use their online donation method if you wish to use Paypal or your credit card to make a tax-deductible donation.
Please do not turn away and think that this is "just the way it is." You can make a difference in helping these children live human lives. After all, you'd give a cleaning brush to a baby hedgehog, wouldn't you?
[Note from author: For those who might recall, yes we did run this article last Fall. So why are we putting it up again? Because the need is still there and it is still tremendous. Please help.]
(Operation Help the Children (OHTC) was established and incorporated on July 1st, 1999 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization located in Media, PA.)
Please send your donation to: OPERATION HELP THE CHILDREN
95 W Rose Tree Rd.
MEDIA PA 19063
Phone: 866-477-6482 Fax: 610-565-4251