'He did what?' Mr. Schutzstaffel, a member of the SS Killing Squad, Einsatzgruppe B.
That we're still talking about this disturbs me, as if each time I have to prove its reality to the uninformed while defending it against the deniers. The secret behind hate, I believe, exists within the fear that ignorant people learn by being taught lies.
In recent months, a great deal of news attention has focused on German efforts to prosecute as many cases of "final human justice" against any one alleged to have participated in war crimes pursuant to the implementation of The Final Solution.
"Well, it's about time," I hear you muttering.
Calls to prosecute the "probably guilty grandpas" before they die have become an emotionally charged priority of the current German government unlike the Nazi war crimes trials of the early post-war years when old age of the defendants was not an issue. Please see my related article (http://www.examiner.com/article/prosecuting-grandpa-before-he-dies)
In a more recent piece I argued that the human duel capacity for acts of good, evil or even both but which can be actuated only by our free will decisions to live our lives as we choose is the basis upon which to understand how war criminals can kill while "at work" yet return home at night to family as if that were the way of a "new normalcy”. http://www.examiner.com/article/of-soldiers-and-war-criminals-good-vs-bad-and-the-choices-we-make
In a thoughtful essay "Understanding Evil" (The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 1, 2014), author James Dawes, Professor of English at Macalester College, admits he too would likely have gotten caught up in the whirlwind of a "genocidal war" and done what so many did-an admission, I trust, of honesty rather than one of ideological affinity.
He astutely remarks: "When we imagine getting perpetrators into our hands, the first thing we think about is punishment, what we as a society are going to do to them." Far worse is "the real and final punishment ... having to be the person you are."
My first reaction to that remark was "Wow! Great Insight." And indeed it is. However, as elegantly stated a truism as that is, my guess is neither existential angst nor threats of divine retribution have much deterrent effect on men who choose to become SS concentration camp guards. Then again, in our struggles to understand the truth, we must avoid any and all attempts to overly simplify it for reasons of arrogance or ego. One of the best answers within any "good" teacher's answer bag is "I don't know" when he doesn't.
Furthermore, Professor Dawes’ wish to avoid “another literary forced march through the carnage of history”-again, an elegant statement of conscience but one, I fear, that encourages rather than condemns acts of fear-driven hatred because the hater correctly perceives our weakness. At most from us, they’ll receive nothing more than a literary slap on the wrist with the promise of impunity. No sooner would you open your eyes to believe that you would find yourself on their list.
Advocates for the "elderly accused"-all of whom are in their 80s and 90s, argue for a "forgive and forget" leniency. Though sometimes conceded that the accused did do as charged, it happened, after all, in their youth, a time when evil, a temporary phenomenon at best, may have conceivably overtaken them. But that was seventy years ago. The evil came and went. Look at them now. Worst you'll see is a gaggle of grandpas playing “pinochle” in the park.
The effect of this "no blame game" is to plant a seed of doubt into the (in)fertile mind of "John Q. Public": 'Hey, you know, I've been thinkin'.What is the point of going after these nonagenarians? Is it a good use of the taxpayers' money?'
Professor Dawes' "Understanding Evil" began with an interview of an old man whom he does not identify but describes as a mass murderer, serial rapist and torturer-nevertheless a charming old guy with whom he exchanged gifts and carried on as old friends do.
And then it hit me. Not only was this charming old man everything Dawes had said he was but a thief most importantly whose victims he did not only kill but from whom he stole their years and made them his own.