Monday, July 16, 2007

In the News

This article on Yahoo! News discusses a lawsuit filed against Germany by the children of Holocaust survivors, citing their own pain and suffering -- caused, in effect, by their parents' experiences during the Holocaust.

I may or may not have said this before on this blog, but I've long had a morbid fascination for the Holocaust.  There's a macabre part of me that wants to explore how -- and why -- humanity could descend into such madness.  There's the cynical part of me that sees it simply as an extension of the prejudices that existed then -- and still exist now.

And there's part of me -- the nascent activist in me, I suspect -- that simply wishes to honor those who died (much to one of my professor's chagrin in college, I include in that all groups targeted by the Nazis, included gypsies, the LGBT community, and those with disabilities) by learning as much about it as I can.

In any event, the gist is, the Holocaust so traumatized their parents that their parents passed on that trauma to them.

I'm of two minds about this.  (By the way -- I have no good answer.  This is mostly a thought experiment.)

The first is this: while there's no doubt that surviving the Holocaust must have affected survivors -- and therefore more than likely impacted their interactions with their children, either those born during the Holocaust itself or after -- at some point, the blame must stop.  People must go on with their lives.  If the kids of Holocaust survivors are proven, indeed, to have suffered grave psychological damage because of their parents' trauma -- can't their kids (won't their kids, given today's litigious society) therefore claim that they are harmed by their parents' trauma, which was caused by their parents' trauma?

When would it end?  And at what point do you say: very few, if any, German officials currently in power had anything to do with the Holocaust?  Do you draw the line with those drafted into the Luftwaffe in the last 6 months of the war?  People who participated in the (mandatory) Hitler Youth?  Do you draw the line the child who was 5 when the war ended but who learned to read by reading Nazi propaganda?

At what point do you say: the people who caused the Holocaust are gone, and to hold Germany as it exists now responsible is, at best, excessive?

But then there's the part of me that answers that exact question with this: the Holocaust was an event unmatched in human history (though Dharfur, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia among others have tried to resurrect it).  It was barbaric, and savage, and quite possibly did damage its victims to the point that it damaged its victims' children -- even those born after the concentration camps closed their doors.

If you'll pardon a foray into nerddom, may I suggest the (1990s) Outer Limits episode "Tribunal" as an exploration of the burden carried by survivors' children.  In this case, the main character's father lost his first wife and child in the Holocaust; a large part of the story deals with his mixed feelings towards his father and the grief that still haunts him.

It's stunning in its simplicity -- yes, there is a sci-fi component, but the major drama is the Holocaust survivor's son's -- and when the screen fades to black, you see why.  A dedication plaque comes up with the following:

"To my father who survived Auschwitz, and to his wife and daughter who did not."  -- Sam Egan, Executive Producer

The thing is -- and the reason I have no good answer for the questions I've posed here -- there's no good answer for this question.  The Holocaust continues to haunt its survivors.  It continues to haunt those affected by it.

It would make good sense to at least allow some sort of compensation to the victims' children who filed the lawsuit.

But I have another worry:  people, as a whole, are not good at common sense.

People, as a whole, are greedy.

People, as a whole, succumb to the slippery slope.

So I suppose my worry is: if you grant compensation to this group of survivors' children, what about children of survivors of the Titanic?  Of the Battle of Britain?  Of Pearl Harbor?  Of Dharfur?  Of Yugoslavia?  Of Rwanda?  Of Tiannamen Square?  Of Vietnam vets?

Where would it end?

What about children of children of alcoholics?  What about the children of children of abusive parents?

You could travel down that road forever.

And that's not even taking into account who should be held responsible.  For the Titanic -- the family of the captain?  The descendants of the owners of the White Star line?  For Vietnam vets -- the US armed forces?  The generals that directed the war?

As I said -- there's no good answer.  But it's an interesting moral puzzle.

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