Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Some things are sacred...

This may be my first serious blog post ever.

I spent most of my life avoiding all things World War II. In my head it was compartmentalized: "Pearl Harbor" - "Nazis/Concentration Camps" - and the "Hollywood Movie" version, which never held a lot of appeal to me.

Then I got on a WWII literature kick; a fascination began and I couldn't get enough. I had to know - how did IT happen?


My WWII reading didn't start with The Book Thief but it's definitely the book that made me open to reading more. I connected with it emotionally in a compelling way. Since then, I've read WWII books set in Germany, UK, The Netherlands, Poland and Japan, and I have more to read set in Sweden, Italy, and France. Every country has a different tale to tell. But what about THE country? I needed the facts. I needed to wrap my brain around it. I needed: 

I decided to listen to the audio (and it's a good thing I did because this thing was COM.PRE.HEN.SIVE! and I don't know if I could have made it through the printed version.) At 57 hours, it was a humdinger - and it took me 6 months to complete. I was in Germany last week, and decided to visit Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich. In an eerie coincidence of timing, I was listening to the concentration camp portion of Rise and Fall while I was on the train on the way to the camp. It was all quite fresh in my mind. But nothing can prepare you for this: 

For thousands of innocents (and a few select not-so-innocents) this was the last glimpse they had of freedom. A harbinger of unimaginable suffering and certain death. Starvation; torture; utter humiliation and complete loss of dignity.
Jews, prisoners of war, and others deemed inferior by Nazi Germany were sent to Dachau or other concentration camps, and literally worked to death.
Maybe they got a spoonful of food a day. Maybe they had a pair of shoes that fit. Maybe they didn't.

After my 57 hours of Hitler's Germany, thousands of pages of fiction and non-fiction and a visit to Dachau, I can't say I'm any closer to understanding how IT happened, but this is the impression I'm left with.

Do I think anybody cares? Or will even read this? I don't know, but like so many before me, I need to get it out.

{I'll caveat this, as I always feel I need to do ... I love Germany. I love Germans. I love Jewish people and Jewish culture.}

At the end of the first World War, Germany had a bruised ego. Along comes Hitler ... and he tells the German people, "We are the master race" and they are all "Fucking A we are." And they got behind him. Not all of them, for certain, but enough of them.

I always thought of Hitler as pure evil and I'm just not sure that's accurate. He was bat-shit crazy. A complete nutter. A sociopath? a psychopath? a severely mentally ill individual.  On top of that he was probably a genius and he was a brilliant orator. He knew how to whip his people into a froth - a "furor" - a frenzy; and get them to buy-in to his whack-job ideas. Hitler told everybody EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO right from the start. So when you ask, how did IT happen?, you kind of have to answer ... the world let it happen.

One of the most important things I've learned in recent years is - when somebody tells you exactly what they are going to do, you have to believe them. That may sound simple, but our desires get in the way of "the truth." There were so many times Hitler could have failed, but he just kept going.

Here's a question I asked myself: Was the rest of the world eager to be rid of the Jews? Did they let Germany do their dirty work? Or - maybe we were just gun shy having just come out of WWI. Whatever the reason, the world is as much to blame for what happened in Nazi Germany as Nazi Germany is - in my opinion.

Dachau is a memorial today.

It's still and quiet.  Sanitized.

I felt nauseous the whole time I was there. 

There is a convent onsite and the nuns constantly pray for atonement.  Dachau today is designed to atone.
But there is no atonement for those people.  All we can hope is that the atoning that's being done, for what was done, can help prevent it from happening again.

NEVER. AGAIN. Not there, not anywhere.

America is so often criticized for sticking our noses in where it doesn't belong.  I believe that had we gotten involved in what was happening in Germany sooner, we could have saved thousands, perhaps millions of lives.  Maybe that is part of why we got involved in Vietnam in the way that we did.  It had only been 20-something years since WWII ... maybe we were scared of THAT happening again.  (And please forgive my ignorance on the topic of world history - I may be saying things that are completely "duh" - but I was absent a lot in high school.)

Maybe we are Team America: World Police because somebody needs to be.

Because this:

 can never happen again, and this:

should never have happened in the first place.

I've often wondered why so many books and movies are set in World War II.  And sure, there is plenty of material from it.  What I think, after my personal WWII journey, is that the writers and the artists and the movie makers; the readers, the visitors, the students - we are all trying to process what is ultimately not processable.  And I think that's fine.  We should never assimilate this.

One of the survivors from Dachau created this sculpture.    I think it speaks for itself.


Care Burpee said...

Excellent post, Nicole. Like seeing so many of the things we have been discussing on PBT, but with pictures added.

You spoke fervently and the pictures magnify your words-perfect.

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