Thursday, January 17, 2008

Further Reflections on Dachau


May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.

This marker greets visitors who enter the gate at Dachau. Many memorials are established to bestow honor; this one serves more as a warning to the world to not allow such a thing to happen again. Which begs the question - how could it have ever happened in the first place? A couple of thoughts...

One common assertion is that the German people were, for the most part, unaware of what was taking place. For the extermination camps, it is possible, however unlikely it may seem, that they were not fully aware - these were built in Poland and Russia away from Germany, and the idea that an entire race of people could be systematically exterminated is fundamentally unfathomable. The same could not be said for the concentration camps. These were located throughout Germany and occupied western Europe, and were well publicized by Nazi propaganda. One of their purposes was to demonstrate the consequences of opposition or failure to cooperate with the Nazi party. It took a great deal of courage for those who did resist.

Another idea that is unfathomable is that human beings could be so deliberately and intentionally cruel to other humans. Undoubtedly evil exists in the world; there are examples throughout history. And undoubtedly, many of the camp personnel were evil, but many were average people with families, hopes, and dreams. The only way they could have acted as they did was to dehumanize - to regard as subhuman - their victims. The processes of the camps were designed to remove all dignity and any sense of humanity from the victims, and that paved the way for unimaginable treatment.

That seems to be a pattern in the justification of mistreatment of others - to regard them as less worthy of basic human consideration. It is evident today in the way immigrants are regarded, in the way people of different races are regarded, in politics and in religion. "...in respect for their fellow man" sounds a lot like "Love your neighbor as yourself".

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