Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ask not

I have lately been revisiting some scenes of the Holocaust. Such images. I suppose it soon dawns to any student of history that there is no crime unimaginable, no ethical collapse not possible for us. This is no dramatic exaggaration: there are no limits to human cruelty. Nor can we ever wash our own hands clean. No person is an island - any crime, any cruelty committed is committed by all, no-one is completely innocent. At this very moment thousands are being killed, tortured, starved. Children, defenceless people marched to death. Mostly in front of carefully averted eyes, amidst lovingly nurtured ignorance. There is no such inevitability in the process that would absolve us of this never seizing tragedy - all the sorrow and suffering in this world is our direct creation, fashioned by our wills, by our being. In that sense even the Holocaust still goes on, those scenes still go on, the charge only increasing in seriousness with the unspeakable deeds themselves being gradually forgotten as real events.


helsinkian said...

The Holocaust indeed proved that human evil knows no boundaries.

Still I think, regardless of other genocides since then and genocides to happen in the future, the most positive side of the Holocaust is that it is over. Hitler and his people were defeated, many punished for the crime and Germany was transformed as a result of the denazification. Günter Grass apparently fought with the Waffen SS. But he was very young and after that he has been a most eloquent critic of the Nazis. Had the Nazis won, the career of Grass would not have turned out in the same fashion. Did he feel guilt? I guess so but in his case the guilt that he felt for his small part in the Nazi system was turned into something positive.

Guilt that has no name and no target doesn't help much. Should I feel guilty? I guess yes, I could do more to promote the causes that mean to me something. Human rights are being violated and indeed all sorts of abuses are happening. Yet I'm not part of any of those systems that commit crimes. Grass was a part of the SS machine. He was personally part of the dark side and this is why guilt had so much more personal meaning for him. Guilt in such a case also is a fruitful feeling.

The Holocaust taught the world (at least Central Europe) many lessons. Not everyone has taken the lessons seriously but all the evil that happened also has had the positive impact that we are no longer as naïve when we see evil.

Kukkuu said...

I am quilty of always expressing my revultions to man made tragedies sitting alone in my living room. Actual executioners do get a helping hand by our silence and without it they would be unemployed.

stockholm slender said...

Well, this is quite a Donnean argument: we share in humankind. Surely there are steeply varying degrees of responsibility, but it seems artificial to use happier circumstances for total absolution. I am not that much talking about personal feelings of guilt (a concept I have a hard time understanding anyway). As for this moment: unspeakable things are happening - if ever there will be a more civilized time, we will undoubtedly be harshly condemned.

sppuuddy said...

Genocide has gone on for thousands of years, its the most evil side of human nature.
I used to think we had learned from that massacre, even thought Rwanda might have just been a one off.
But even now with the world knowing exactly what is happening in Darfur proves one thing....we have learned nothing.

stockholm slender said...

Yes, what exactly have we learned? I have a sense that we live in dark times, that we have always lived in dark times. Anything can happen, any crime can be committed - we still don't have any limits. From where can the necessary growth come?