Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lessons learned from Nazi Germany

I've been watching a six part documentary about Auschwitz during World War 2, and at the end of each "part", there is a discussion with scholars who have studied this period in history. Today, the discussion revolved around what elements have to be present in society for genocide to occur. It was so fascinating, I thought I'd share part of the transcript. I feel this is especially relevant today, with the attitudes that I've been hearing (on the news and on the street) toward certain groups of people.

Pay special attention to the implication that this was not a situation that evolved overnight. It took /decades/ for the right attitudes to evolve in the general public, and anyone naive enough to think it can't happen today is fooling themselves.

Notice also that EDUCATION played an important role. There are so many implications here that I could almost write a whole other article, so I'll just let you read the transcript. Feel free to comment with thoughts. :)

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< Host > Germany, before Hitler, was not a small nation. It was also one of the most cultured, educated, and creative societies in history. How was it so easily transformed?

< Scholar 1 > Civilized and moral states have the ability to produce fine things, but they also have the capacity to destroy. And Germany, under Hitler, typified this very important irony.

< Host > But it's so hard to believe. I need to know more about the process by which the Nazis transformed the Jews into "The Enemy."

< Scholar 2 > By 1939 when the war began, they had been taught by schoolbooks, by textbooks, that the people who stood in the way of German progress were a threat, and that didn't only mean Jews. It meant, Polish people who got in the way. It meant handicapped people, disabled people, anybody who was so-called, "undesirable."

< Host > Gypsies, homosexuals...

< Scholar 2 > Exactly. These people visually looked like the material in their textbooks that said, "Jews are different. They're alien." And that, I think, facilitated killing with a clear conscience.

< Host > Is it a good idea for kids today to question their education?

< Scholar 2 > A good education teaches kids to question their education. To /look/ at the occasions in American history when our government, convinced it was right, virtually exterminated American Indians, enslaved millions of Africans coming to this country against their will. To be alert to the varied forms that genocide can take.

....

< Host > You know, I don't hear either one of you saying that the answer to the prevention of genocide is to teach people to stress the sanctity of human life.

< Scholar 2 > That's the bottom line. Not only to value human life that appears to be "like us", but /all/ human life. To respect differences. To love strangers. To take risks on behalf of people we don't know. This is a global world. We need education for a global ethics.