Paranoia Won't Destroy Ya
I, for one, would like to think that it never happened. Who among us wants the actual proof that our species has been that stupid and self-destructive? Who among us wants to think about the possibility of it ever happening again? Worse yet, who wants to entertain the thought that they might exact that kind of cruelty on a fellow human being if placed in the same circumstance?
This chapter in our genocidal past is an historical fact, with far too much evidence to ignore. First of all, there were the bodies. The liberating Allies found ton after ton of the naked, emaciated corpses and they sure as hell wrote home about them. We also know that it occurred because the Germans kept meticulous records. They left a paper trail of their own viciousness – of course if one were arrogant enough to assume that he’ll simply conquer the world, then why be concerned about concealing such things? We have miles of film footage showing in graphic detail exactly how the Nazis treated their home-grown prisoners of war. These images are neither photo ops, fakes, nor simply things taken out of context. This ordeal destroyed entire families. A friend of mine, Asya (a pseudonym she asked that I give), had no family other than her parents and her kid brother. No aunts, no grandparents, no cousins, no uncles, no older siblings. Why? They had all been wiped out in the death camps.
The most damning evidence of the Holocaust lies in the fact that it is a living memory. That is to say, there are witnesses to these events who still live and walk the streets among us. I once had this classmate. Her mother periodically came to our history classes to lecture about the Holocaust. She wasn’t a teacher, or anything. As far as I know, she might not have even graduated from college. Her only authority to speak on the subject came from the fact that she had survived Bergen-Belsen, one of the most notorious Nazi camps – the one where Anne Frank died.
The most chilling aspect of the Holocaust, as she described it, was its systematic nature. One day she saw soldiers erecting a fence around the perimeter of her ghetto. Local officials explained to Jewish residents that it was for their own protection. Sounds logical. Considering the anti-Semitic furor that the National Socialists had created, one can understand the need for some kind of security measure. Of course, the Nazis convinced many of them that the real threat didn’t come from them, but rather the communists.
The Nazis thought of more things to increase ghetto safety. First, they copied the local Jewish Register – to keep tabs on anybody in case they went missing. How thoughtful! Next, they stationed guards at each gate of the fence. A few suspicious fires and a couple of fistfights were all it took for Hitler to dispatch the Storm Troopers to keep the peace. A tiny group of local ghetto residents, those who had been bought off by the government, helped the SS by watching the neighborhood for any potential troublemakers, people who insisted on violating the curfew, etc.. Of course, all of this protection didn’t stop Krystalnacht, a nationally choreographed pillaging and plundering of Jewish properties. Still, the Nazis didn’t give up. When war broke out, they decided to go that extra mile in ensuring the safety of Jews by moving them to secure places such as Dachau, Buchenwald, amd Auschwitz.
I asked Mrs. H., “Surely, somebody must have known something was wrong when they started putting up fences around your neighborhood, didn’t they?”
Her answer still rings in my ears. I have never forgotten it. “No,” she replied. “No, if you thought that, people would think that you were paranoid.”
Her statement succinctly describes the genius behind the near-success of the Final Solution. Some people think that the Holocaust came about only when people got shipped off to the death camps. Others think about it only in terms of the out and out slaughter starting in 1942 and continuing until the end of the war. If you listen to people like Mrs. H., or you if you read the commentary provided by holocaust victims/survivors, however, you’d get the feeling that the Holocaust occurred in a number of tiny, calculated steps. Each step, in and of itself, seemed reasonable, almost benign; yet each and every one of these micro-movements resulted in a slow-motion erosion of civil rights, moving every German citizen inch by inch to a condition with inevitable consequences.
Might it have helped if a few more people in Mrs. H.’s ghetto were clinically paranoid? What if a group of people stubbornly, unreasonably, resisted all these attempts at Nazi ‘protection’, might the extent of the Holocaust have been lessened? Considering what happened, could it have gotten any worse?
More important, does any of this sound remotely familiar? The suppression and rabble rousing against minorities? The slow, tedious, consolidation of power within fewer and fewer hands? The creation of laws, such as the Weimar’s Enabling Act, that concentrate power into the executive branch of government? Warmongering against most of the world?
I don’t think we’ve learned any lessons at all. Chalk it up to good old-fashioned denial, the pig-headed belief that “It can’t happen here.”