Dear Peaceful Nation,
Brothers and Sisters, you may wonder why it is important to look back on the evils of times past. You may wonder why we should care about something that happened 60 years ago. You may look at our country and feel confident that such evils and atrocities could never happen where and when we live. But, this is why we need to remember that evil does happen.
If we look back a little further than 60 years ago we can ask ourselves how could this happen. Did the German people possess some evil in their genes that made them vulnerable to the evil that was later perpetrated? If they did, how do we know that we don’t possess that evil in our own genes? But, once you begin to accuse the genes of the German people you actually fall into the same trap that these people found themselves in over 60 years ago. This is because evil has nothing to do with our genes and we need to understand this as a lesson from the past.
So, if genes play no role in behavior, then how does evil come into being? Since it can happen anywhere, what should we be aware of to prevent that evil from taking root in our society before it is to late?
We should recall that before Hitler came to power in Germany a form of Democracy existed in Germany. People could choose their leaders by voting, and they did. But all was not peaceful in the 1930s. Inflation, unemployment, and poverty were everywhere. People wanted to work, but companies could not afford to hire anyone. People didn’t have money to pay for the products that companies made. And, because of all this people were afraid. Fear took hold, because no one knew where his or her next meal would come from.
When people are afraid they begin to look for relief. They don’t want to be afraid. But, the solution isn’t always obvious. People wanted to work, but there were not enough jobs. People began to blame “the others” for their woes. “The others”, is a term meaning anyone outside of one’s circle of friends and family. It is often easy to blame “the others” for our fears. It makes us feel like it isn’t our fault; it is the fault of “the others.”
In Germany “the others” where the Jews. The Jews were a mystery to most Germans who only dealt with them when doing business. The Jews suffered as much as anyone else in Germany during this time, but this minority proved an easy scapegoat to bash when one was feeling frustrated with the situation. It turns out that hatred can be used to fight fear.
So, when a leader finally emerged in Munich who told everyone he could solve the nation’s problems people were willing to listen. They liked the idea that he could calm their fears. They liked the idea that he could improve the economy. He rose to power, and he put people back to work. But, he also stoked the fire of hatred to fight the fear, and he continued to use fear to maintain his power. Power was sucked out of the Democracy, because weak leaders ceded their power in the goal of saving the nation. In a blink of an eye a Democracy was turned into a totalitarian regime.
What does that have to do with us today in our peaceful nation? How could this evil ever come to our land?
Over ten years ago when I was living in Germany I saw first hand how this evil could rise again. When the Berlin wall fell many East Germans sought life in the old West Germany. They came to Hamburg, where I lived, seeking work, and fortunes. Many families arrived. At the same time families were also leaving Croatia and Bosnia where a war was being fought. A park near my house became a refuge camp for some of these people. Standard shipping containers were converted into homes for these people.
How do you think the people of Hamburg reacted to this? Most people felt sorry for all these people. However, many of the youth began to resent the special aid these people receiving. They began a movement with the hatred of these people, “the others,” at the heart of their ideology. We experienced this hatred first hand on the trains in Hamburg. These youths would board the train and yell at us to speak only in German. “Sprech Deutsch! Du bist in Deutschland,” they would say. They used fear to enforce their ideas.
Fortunately, the government and the majority of the people in Germany did not agree with the sentiments of these youth. But among a minority of people this hatred still exists.
When fear is used to take power hatred is used to maintain it. These things happen all the time, they may even happen in your peaceful nation. People in your peaceful nation may demand power and create fear to gain that power. The fear can come in many forms. Classes of people may be singled out and turned into scapegoats. The opposition may be personally demeaned with lies and untruths. One group may rise to power and proclaim “the others” as unclean. This can happen in so many different ways that when it does the majority will be caught off guard. This is when the nation is at greatest risk. This is why the story of the rise of evil in Germany needs to be remembered forever. If this history isn’t remembered, then nations will be doomed to repeat it again and again.
Remembering the Wannsee Conference and the Liberation of Auschwitz
"This article is posted in response to the January 27, 2005, BlogBurst (see list in the side column), to remember the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, sixty years ago, on January 27, 1945.
On January 20th, we marked the anniversary of the 1942 Wannsee Conference. In the course of that Conference, the Nazi hierarchy formalized the plan to annihilate the Jewish people. Understanding the horrors of Auschwitz requires that one be aware of the premeditated mass-murder that was presented at Wannsee.
Highlighting these events now has become particularly important, even as the press reports that '45% of Britons have never heard of Auschwitz' (Jerusalem Post, December 2, 2004,link