Friday, March 23, 2012

Lessons from the Holocaust

My eldest is reading Night by Elie Wiesel in her English class. Because of her history of anxiety, particularly with medical and health related issues, she was nervous about reading it. So, I had a discussion with the teacher about letting her off the intense stuff (teacher was VERY understanding), and I got a copy of the book to read myself so I could help her with it.

Surprisingly short book. Not surprisingly intense book. Horrific, actually. Inconceivable that people can be that cruel to fellow human beings. That evil.

But a friend reminded me yesterday of the electric shock experiments I heard about before. Subjects were asked to push a button thinking they were delivering electric shocks to another person they couldn't see behind a screen (the hidden people were not actually being shocked). Despite hearing the screams of their "victims", the subjects accepted the reassurance of the scientists in charge of the experiment that everything was fine and continued to give the shocks -- even increasing the dose to levels that could kill someone.

Lesson to be learned: while we need to obey the authorities we are under on earth, submission to authorities is never an excuse for turning off our own brain or disconnecting with our own conscience.

Another lesson to be learned: the first chapter or two of Night describes how the people in the narrator's little town kept hearing rumors of bad stuff happening to the Jews and refused to believe them. Even when a man who escaped from one of the massive group-graves came back and told them they were being exterminated, they blew him off. We don't need to leave, they said. The Russians will be here soon. The Germans don't seem as cruel as we have heard. They're just taking us to another town. The war will be over soon and we'll be going back home. Not until they actually stood on the ground at Auschwitz and saw the smoke from the furnaces did reality hit.

I also remember stories about the German townspeople living around the camps, how they completely turned a blind eye to what was going on. How they were able to convince themselves, despite the evidence that was there to be witnessed, that everything was fine, their government was on the up and up, and Germany was a great nation who would soon have victory over her enemies. Again, too trusting of the authorities . . . but even more so, too trusting of the lies they told themselves because they didn't want to believe the truth.

So, a couple of personal lessons to be taken from the Holocaust story -- we are capable of far more evil than we realize, and we are capable of far greater self-deception than we realize. And the personal application of these lessons? Well, for me, it reinforces my rejection of the "listen to your heart" mantra. The heart is deceptive above all things. We must have a source of truth outside of ourselves, and that source of truth must not be another fallible human being. I chose God and his word as my source of truth. There's no better choice.

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