“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” –attributed to Edmund Burke
I cannot place the beginning of my fascination, for lack of a better word, but I am captivated by stories of the Holocaust. I understand that this is a somewhat disturbing statement that, at best, requires a caveat, but it’s nearly impossible for me not to read an article or watch a show that I stumble upon about the subject. There are two things that simply boggle my mind with respect to the horror.
The first, and perhaps greatest thing that intrigues me is that is happened, plain and simple. I was chilled the first time I watched footage of the infamous Milgram experiments to show the power of authority and peer pressure. (For a rundown, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment.) I know, that on a much more mundane and miniscule scale I have gone along with my peers and failed to question authorities that I may not agree with. I can see how good, honest men and women were swept up in the Nazi movement– to an extent. There comes a point, however, that I like to believe my humanity would kick in. I think that I would draw a line and stop my obedience before it got too far, if I were involved. But I cannot say this for sure. There is such an unimaginable darkness to the actions of Nazi soldiers, but there is a part of me that really can comprehend how it got so out of control. Especially when it came to protecting their lives. This does not make the whole reality of the hell that developed any less astounding. And it happened fifty years ago. Not centuries past, in barbaric times. My Grandmothers were alive to see these days. This is what I cannot wrap my mind around.
“The children of Israel survived the madman’s dream…”
The second thing that simply astounds me with respect to the Holocaust are the superhuman acts of bravery that took place. The amount of hope and determination and strength that it took to endure the torture is beyond what any human could be expected to muster. People are simply amazing. Stories of survivors, stories of those who protected, stories of those who remember. It is so inspiring. That is the paradox of the Holocaust: it was literally the darkest period of human interaction, and the most glorious. People slaughtered others with indifference at best, hatred at worst. And people survived hell, proving that “The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it (C.C. Scott).”
My interest has not extended to everything on the subject. In fact, there are many great stories and accounts that I have not yet encountered. However, I would highly recommend the following films, simply for the inspiration they have given me: Everything Is Illuminated (based on the acclaimed novel), Life Is Beautiful (who wouldn’t recommend this one?), Paperclips (a moving documentary about children learning about the Holocaust), Forgiving Dr. Mengele (an unbelievable documentary on a survivor’s decision to live a life of forgiveness) and The Children of Chabannes (about schools smuggling children to safety). There are so many others, more than I have seen, but these are phenomenal and I highly recommend them.
I know that there was not a whole lot of reflection or insight in this entry. It was not poetic or eloquent. But after visiting the memorial this weekend, this is on my mind, my heart, so here it is.
“I have reflected many times upon our rigid search. It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. Like you say, inside out. Jonathan, in this way, I will always be along the side of your life. And you will always be along the side of mine.” —Everything Is Illuminated