Lest we forget

We have had a German theme to our tv viewing since Christmas. My brother-in-law gave us the documentary “Hitler’s Medics” – a gruelling insight into German science – thorough, dispassionate, and in some cases, utterly horrifying. Some of their research and findings gained from Jewish victims is influential today, and brutally raises questions about the morality of science. Next up was a rewatch of Downfall – the second film ever made by Germans about the war. This was a gritty film of madness, death, murder and suicide, and depicts the last seven days in Hitler’s bunker, from the perspective of his secretary. A very interesting but disturbing film that arouses conflicting emotions towards Hitler, possibly the most reviled figure of the 20th century. Last night we watched Das Boot – (The Boat) – the first German film about the war. It was set in a submarine. Of the 40,000 men in German submarines during the war, 30,000 did not return. The tense, close drama seems typical of films in confined spaces. It was a very different picture to that normally seen of Germans during the war. It told the story of boys barely men and their struggles to survive deep in the ocean as they carried out orders. One image I will not forget is of a ship they had successfully attacked. They rose to the surface to watch it burn, and saw men in flames diving overboard. The now bearded boys were disturbed by the scene, and one glimpes both the humanity and inhumanity of war in their flame-lit faces. This film makes one forget about taking sides in war.

I have always been interested in the Holocaust, even as a young teen. In early secondary school I read every book I could get my hands on, and even attempted to write a short story which no doubt was a poorly combined hotch-potch plot of the books I had read! I guess I have a familial link to the tragedy of Nazi Germany. My Oma and Opa married in Nazi Germany, and were imprisoned because it was a mixed marriage (Opa was Dutch). I don’t know their story but would love to. For some reason the stories of survivors have resonated deeply within me. The most impacting book I have read is “Night” by Elie Wiesel.

Most of the survivors of the Holocaust are now elderly. While I don’t think it is helpful to dwell on the past, remembering it and the capacity of humanity for unspeakable evil is sobering. In a way, it keeps us in our place. The Western world loves to think of itself as beyond atrocity, as more civilized than 2nd and third world countries. But the Holocaust is not that long ago. The ingredients that lay at its roots including prejudice, fear of “other”, desire for conformity and social control are alive and well today. Genocide is not a thing of the past. We in the west watch it on our tvs as we go about our daily lives, perhaps thinking it could never happen amongst us. The Holocaust reminds us that it can, and did. Next Saturday, the 27th of January, is International Holocaust Day.

“…to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…” – Elie Wiesel


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