Sunday, June 3, 2007

...the program to kill handicapped children...

is the title that finally emotionally broke me in my journey to read War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust by Doris L. Bergen. I had to take a breath before barreling into it, but then came to a complete halt after finishing the opening paragraph:

Like Jews in Germany, people deemed handicapped also experienced the open Nazi aggression of 1938-1939. Hitler and other proponents of so-called racial
purification would have to wait for the cover provided by war to implement
murder on a mass scale, but by 1939 they felt confident enough to take steps in
that direction. They began with the most defenseless segment of an already
vulnerable group: the children.
And there you have it. That's where I finally let loose. A gentle, elderly man sat next to me on the plane and finally leaned over to ask if I was okay. He took out a handkerchief, handed it to me, and patted my leg. I could only show him the book's cover and he understood.

Probably one of the worst thoughts that comes from this is the fact that to a decade of children born in the late 1920's and into the 1930's, the normalization of Nazi power coincided with their child these acts were normal to an "Aryan" child. So if a handicapped child in the neighborhood disappeared from his home to never return...that was normal. When grandpa, who fell to Alzheimer's and was being cared for by his children and grandchildren in their home disappeared, that was normal. When a van drove down the street with "Kaiser's Coffee" emblazoned down the sides and girls outside jumping rope would make jokes about "they are coming to pick you up to die", that was normal. (And just so you know, the back of the Kaiser's Coffee van was full of poisonous gasses that killed the lucky ones who got a free ride.)

I'm not quite finished with the book. I still have a chapter titled The Peak Killing Years to get through.

For now, I am sick and upset and although I have known about this my entire life (like studying the history of the Holocaust was normal to me in school) this book has been so insightful for me. Especially in regards to human nature and Hitler's tactics. He carefully plotted to pit people against each other, and he used natural human weaknesses that every one of us has succumbed to at some point or another in our lives to his advantage.

There are points of light in these moments of disparity, but they are individual...not on the mass scale that Hitler offered up his claim for Race and Space. But the Holocaust Museum in Israel offers up a memorial and lists names of those who found it in themselves to help the weak and vulnerable. They are known as "the righteous among nations."

So, in the midst of this book, I've questioned myself several times. Where do I go from here? What information do I take and what do I do with it? Of the notes I've jotted down in the book itself, I know I want my students to decide what is normal for them...and possibly debate this. I was troubled by the voyage of the ship Saint Louis, who brought fleeing immigrants to Cuba and were then denied entry there...and every port north of there along the Atlantic seacoast. I know, that current immigration laws weigh heavy with me and I want my students to know the impact they could have. And, of course, there's Darfur and Sudan...there's so much we can study and discuss. And there's so much my students can learn about themselves in hopes that if, ever presented in a situation where the weak and vulnerable are being taunted and abused, they will stand up and be known as part of "the righteous among nations."


menonita said...

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Janet said...

Wow. What a powerful book. I think I'm going to have to invest myself.

Lindsey said...

Hm. I know without a doubt I wouldn't have been able to get through the chapter.

In case you didn't notice, I did find you'r blog and was inspired to start my own like I said I said i would. :-)

me said...
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Lindsey said...