Monday, May 12, 2008

Courage

I think I've mentioned before that I have an intense fascination with World War II in general and the Holocaust in particular.

There are a few reasons for that.

One, I think, is morbid curiosity -- the feeling that if you watch one more special, read one more book, think just a little more psychologically, it'll actually make sense.  Of course, it never will.  You can rationalize it with the Treaty of Versailles, with the extreme depression in Germany -- it's common for people to point out it took a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bred.  Germans were a beaten-down people who were desperate to...yadda yadda yadda.

But 11 million people died...nothing could ever make that make sense.

Another is, more than likely, the fact that so many of my family members would have been among Hitler's victims.  It's not fair, really, to the victims of the Holocaust (of all persuasions) to say that it is of more interest because it's personal, but I think sometimes that the enormity of the whole thing is so incomprehensible (how do you conceive of 11 million people in any kind of concrete way?) that it's human nature to personalize it.

There's something haunting about the Holocaust -- a surreality to it that just never goes away.  Very little on TV has affected my like the dedication at the end of an episode of The Outer Limits:  "Dedicated to my father, who survived Auschwitz, and to his wife and son who did not."  The show was about time travel and sci-fi stuff, yes, but it was also about how the Holocaust continued to affect the main character's father -- and himself, born to the father's second wife in America.  I gather from Sam Egan's dedication that the character was at least partly autobiographical.

And then there's the stories themselves.  Sure, everyone has read The Diary of Anne Frank -- but I've always been fascinated by the story of Miep Gies, who -- along with her husband -- risked so much to try to save the Frank family.

Everybody has probably heard the cliche: all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

During the Holocaust, doing something could very well be fatal, and yet, there are many, many stories of heroes who risked everything to save who they could.

It was terribly dangerous, of course -- opposing a police state nearly always is.  But some people found the courage to do something, and it always makes me wonder: in that situation, would I have had the same courage?

I don't think anyone can truly answer that question until they are faced with the circumstance, for what it's worth.

A hero died today.

The only thing I can think of to say is, it makes me think of the end of Schindler's List, where the people Schindler saved (and their descendants) pass by and put stones on his grave -- she is responsible for saving the lives not only of the actual people she saved, but for all the generations that would come after.

2 comments:

Mz. Cat said...

About a month ago, during rounds with the pet therapy team, we came up a wonderful man and his wife (who was the patient). He was a very happy gentleman with lots of spirit for his 89 years besides looking GREAT! Not a day over 70. He shared with us he was in Auschwitz as a boy/teenager. He went on to tell us he escaped 3 times. He shared with us his tattoo. I had never been so close to living history. We left filled with pride and tears, that this wonderful man had to endure such a horrific life, but proud that it did not hold back the wonderful person he is.

SpooWriter said...

When I was at CLU, I took a class called the Holocaust in Literature and Film. The professor had made friends with an older couple who had audited some classes at CLU -- and they were both Holocaust survivors. The husband had only spoken about it once before, but they both came to our class.

The woman and her sister had been 499 and 500 of 500 randomly selected people to go to a work camp rather than a concentration camp.

It turned out that, a few years prior, they had been guests at one of CLU's Founders Day things (I think -- some important CLU event) when a man -- a former soldier -- was speaking about liberating people from a cattle car bound for...I think...Auschwitz.

The woman who had spoken to us had been on that train...he'd helped to liberate her. Some people's lives are just meant to cross....

(Applicable Twilight Zone quote number one and quote number two (the more powerful of the two, IMHO).)