The numbers are staggering. Stored in a German archive so vast there are nearly sixteen miles of corridors, crammed onto floor to ceiling shelves, over fifty-million files giving mute testimony to the savagery and inhumanity of the Nazis during the Holocaust await their long overdue release to the public.
The archival evidence of Hitler’s mad Final Solution is irrefutable. Page after page of death, torture, inhumane medical experiments, and fear. I wish the records had been opened long ago, before so many survivors desperate for information concerning the fate of their loved ones had passed away.
It’s difficult for me to imagine what it must have been like during that time for the ‘undesirables.’ The Jews, the gays, the blacks, the gypsies, and anyone else Hitler decided had no right to live. It is far more difficult to imagine myself as one of the perpetrators, killing women and children indiscriminately, without remorse, and considering it my duty to do so. I doubt I will ever understand the collective madness of that time in history, and I am very glad that I don’t understand it. I’m glad that I can’t find anything within myself that would make my participation acceptable.
I suppose the only real explanation for participating in the slaughter of innocents was the fear of what would happen if they refused. I doubt the Nazis would have hesitated for a second to shoot down the conscientious objectors to the Holocaust. I believe there were very few ‘true believers’ in the Final Solution, but they were vicious and heartless in their application of madness on a grand scale. I hope I would have had the courage to refuse. To choose an honorable death over a life of shame and grief. I know I could not have participated and lived with it. I would have ended my own life and gone gladly into hell to escape hell. There are things worse than death.
The pages of the archives can tell us what happened to the victims. Who died, when, and where, and in many instances, how. But they can never reveal the true horror of what happened. Pages cannot cry out in fear, they can’t beg God to save them, and they can’t spend the last moments of their lives desperately trying to save their children. Paper can’t feel pain, it doesn’t bleed, and it doesn’t scream when it’s cast into a fire. The people murdered by the Nazis did.
We owe it to them to remember what happened, and we owe it to ourselves to live up to the promise of ‘never again.’ Our world has witnessed what happens when humanity is sacrificed at the altar of ideology and hate.
My next door neighbor, Mr. Marvin Cook, fought his way across Europe with Patton during World War II. He speaks hesitantly of those sad and lonely days, but he reserves his deepest emotions for his stories of the U.S. Army finding the death camps of the Nazis. It’s hard to listen to this old man talk about it, to see his pain and sorrow still keen after all these years. He told me of his platoon sergeant, a man he calls the “meanest sonofabitch in the U.S. Army,” a ferocious fighter and a hard man. Mr. Cook said he saw this man cry only one time, when they stumbled onto a concentration camp the Nazis had fled in a panic before their arrival. He told me of his platoon sergeant staring around the camp saying, “Oh My God! What are they doing here? What the hell are they doing here? Sweet Jesus, what are they doing.” Mr. Cook told me “a lot of tough boys cried like babies that day. Me too, hell, there was no way not to cry at what we saw.”
The opening of the archives will be painful for many Holocaust survivors and their families, but they have to know what happened. They have to discover the fates of their loved ones. They have a right to know, and very little time left.
As for the rest of us, I hope we will realize the importance of containing madness before it’s too late.Powered by Sidelines