On Chris's last full day in Germany, he and I went to the Dachau concentration camp 30 minutes outside of Munich. It was a stark contrast between the frivolous fun of Okobterfest and the inherent darkness of Dachau. I didn't take any pictures when I was at Dachau. Somehow it didn't seem right. I know that pictures help up remember things we never want to forget, and in no way do I want to forget what I saw; I can't explain why I didn't take photos, it just didn't feel right to me. It wasn't my path for understanding all that had transpired there. And, please understand, I think everyone's path for understanding atrocities is different.
The holocaust is so incredibly unexplainable to me. I don't understand how so many people could have become desensitized to mass killings based on such small ethnic differences; the victims and their captors were neighbors, friends, and co-workers. Or if they didn’t have a direct relationship to one another they had relationships with someone ethnically similar to the prisoners in the concentration camps.
I can understand how the average German citizen could passively allow the Holocaust to begin. When the Nazis seized control they were able, through a manipulation of government power, to capture and jail any political opponents. I can imagine that as a German citizen you wouldn’t agree with the National Socialists (Nazis) at first but by the time you realized the true horror of what is happening you have no real choice but to be silent. If you spoke out you or your family will be hurt, killed, sent to a concentration camp yourself, who really knew what would happen to you?
But what is truly terrible to me and absolutely unexplainable is the actions of the people who knew what was happening from the beginning and allowed or encouraged the plans and eventual actions. How could you be a guard in a concentration camp, an officer ushering people into cattle cars, or one of the hundreds of other jobs involved? I have debated which is worse: knowing what you are doing is terribly wrong or letting yourself become so brainwashed with hatred that you enjoy your job? I don’t have an answer; I don’t think I ever will.
It makes me wonder if I have become adjusted to injustice in the world. What could I be ignoring or turning a blind eye to because it's easier or doesn't affect my family or friends? The war in Darfur? Remaining daily racism and anti-Semitism? Educational and health inequalities between American races and social classes? Or even more dramatic, the inequalities between Americans and non-Americas? And if I can see these things occurring what can I do personally? Donate money? Write to congress? Quit my easy American life and become a relief worker?
I don’t think there are any easy answers. I wish there were.