A Lesson from Nazi Concentration Camp Survivors
I lived in Israel for a year in 1972. I was working my way to India. I had come from six months in Frankfurt, Germany, where I worked in a bakery under the supervision of Herbert, who had been a drummer in Hitler’s private marching band; so he said. In Israel, I worked as a civilian employee of the Israeli Air Force. I lived with soldiers in tents in the Sinai Desert, close to the Suez Canal. We dug underground ammunition bunkers all day.
During my year in Israel, I met many Nazi concentration camp survivors. The stories they told me, quite honestly, were so horrific as to defy belief. Some people today do not even believe the Holocaust actually happened! How could it? How could human beings descend into such a hell as to do this to other human beings?
How could our very humanity be corrupted such that we became monsters, betraying everything good and beautiful and decent and caring and loving that is within our true heart, our living spirit? Hitler?
No, I was told. Not Hitler. Us. The people. How? Why?
Because we the people were obediant and compliant to “authority.” When they lied, we believed them. When they asked us to hate, we did. When they told us Jews, Gypsies, and gays were to blame for everything bad, we believed them. When they said to attack, we did. When they said to imprison, starve, torture, and murder, we did. When we were told to perform experiments on children, we did. Not Hitler. We the people who were obedient and compliant. Hitler did nothing but challenge the very nature of who we were willing to be. Not Hitler. Not Hitler’s inner circle, his cabinet of monstrosities: Walther Funk, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Albert Speer, Karl Donitz, Erich Raeder, Wilhelm Keitel, Joseph Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler.
There is something we need to remember. Many of us do. More of us need to. We cannot be obedient and compliant to anyone that asks us to betray the very best of our innate humanity. We cannot betray our common heart and our vibrant spirit — both of which lie within us beneath the ideologies of politics, religion, race, greed, nationality or any other seeming division between human beings. We cannot betray this, no matter the cost. We cannot be obedient and complient to any authority, of any kind, that asks us to betray that which makes us human, that which links us together, that which connects us to all living things with a caring and generous heart, with a loving spirit. You know what I mean. Call it what you will.
Look at the faces of people you love, adore, and cherish. Look at your children. Look closely at who you love. These people you love are what keeps you in touch with your humanity. That’s how you can love them. How do you show, manifest, and demonstrate your love? In many ways. But, I doubt you can show them this love if you betray the capacity to love within your heart, if you neglect to show that love, to demonstrate it. Not just to them, to those you love easily. But to others, who you may not even know. To others, who authorities may tell you to hate, imprison, torture, and kill.
The only thing that matters is what we do next. Shall we be obeident and complient? Or shall we find a cosmic roar of defiance to say NO to anyone, ANYONE, who asks us to betray our common humanity.
The only thing that matters now is what we do next. I, for one, shall not be obedient or compliant. What about you?