Did you have a Choice?

    The story of the holocaust has a cast of characters as large as all the religious books "bible's". Comparable to the bible, heroism and evil are depicted at their limits. Commensurate to the bible, the holocaust ambushes sensibility in crossfire of human bravery, treachery, and indifference. Moreover, most people, when asked to define the holocaust, they insinuate only the fact that six million children, women and men were systematically obliterated from the earth, for no other reason at all than they were merely Jews. This verity, staggering as it is, masks the genuine lessons of the holocaust. It encumbers our imagination, blocking out the human truth of the holocaust, which abides in the stories of individuals. It is why Ann Frank's diary is cherished, why stories of the holocaust survivors are so important, or why justice is demanded when it is discovered that some old man committed atrocities as young man. If the holocaust becomes as head count, it becomes nothing. One story that has maintained the holocaust awareness is of John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian immigrant who stands accused of having a bloody Nazi past. As this anecdote grinds on, the true story of the holocaust hero Oskar Schindler has become the subject of a film described by critics the most shattering movies ever made on the holocaust. Oskar Schindler and John Demjanuk exemplify the two different responses to the greatest evil humanity has ever unleashed upon itself. While there are more villainous than John Demjanuk, and nobler heroes than Oskar Schindler, they are useful because their stories, when studied together, embody the greatest lesson the holocaust has to offer. Demjanuk was an allied soldier, captured by the Nazi, and thrown into a POW camp. From there, documents have him serving the Nazi in several concentration camps. Some of his champions, who begrudgingly acknowledge this a possibility, respond with claim that Demjanuk would not have a Choice, that he would have been killed if he refused to help murder the Jews. But this assertion is not supported by history. Numerous records exist of Ukrainian POW's who refused to work in the death camps. But there is no record of any Ukrainian being killed by the SS for refusing. Death camp duty was voluntary for POW's unless, of course, they happened to be Jewish. The claim that one had no Choice has been a rallying cry not only of active participants in the slaughter, but also those who watched and did nothing. (The other position made by spectators is that they didn't know what was happening to their Jewish neighbors and friends. Actor Robert Clary, a Holocaust survivor, once noted that when he encountered Germans who asserted ignorance of what was happening; they always affirmed national ignorance, rather than individual ignorance. "I never met a German who said to me, ' I didn't know what was happening." They always said, 'WE didn't know.") Oskar Schinler knew. But this womanizer, black market dealer, and heavy drinker, went down a different trail. This German Catholic wheeler-dealer ended up spending his entire fortune and risked Gestapo-style arrest, to save 1200 Jews from certain death. When the war had ended, Schindler was asked why. His answer is disturbingly similar to the one often given by the murderers and their apologists. "There was no Choice." Schindler's claim is the same one made by most heroes. It is never believed, because it is not true. The hero has a Choice. Choice is what makes the hero's deeds heroic. It is the Choice that makes the brute's actions a crime. Without Choice, there could be no heroes or villains. Those who inquire why the holocaust occurred often question why "God" would authorize such a cataclysm to take place. If one embraces that our architect /(s), creator/(s)" endowed humanity with free will, the answer becomes obvious. "God" did not kill six million Jews. People did. It was people shoved people into gas chambers. It was people who stood by and allowed their Jewish neighbors and friends to be hauled away to their deaths. And it was people who risked their lives to save their fellow human beings from certain death. The holocaust, equally the bible, teaches that morality cannot exist without freedom of Choice, and that freedom of Choice demands morals. It is true for the holocaust hero and the holocaust criminal, and the million of others, who opposed the evil, but did not. As the holocaust was spawned by Choice, the holocaust hero, criminal, and spectator seek freedom from Choice, Justice demands that criminals may not disavow their Choices. Glory demands that heroes like Oskar Schindler may not repudiate theirs. The majority of people, those who chose to stand by and do nothing, live in obscurity with their Choice "decisions". It is the same for most of humanity. The greatest number of the people is never public heroes or public criminals. But this does not free them from moral obligation. While the hero's glory and the criminal's scorn are effortlessly evaded by doing nothing, it is difficult to elude one's own soul. Genuine heroes and villains will not permit it. If all who stood by had stood up, there would not have been a holocaust. But they did not stand up, and the holocaust did happen. The stories of heroes and villains, and the Choices they make, exist to agonize the souls of those who evade obligation by evading action, the explanation of the holocaust is a lesson vital to the human race. It is simple, obvious and universal. While some may be guilty, all are responsible or just passive conspirators! Cynical accessory!

Raymond Pestalozzi