“There is no limit to man’s inhumanity to man,” my dad used to tell me. As a teenager I had only a general understanding of what he was talking about. I saw examples of crime and inhumanity all the time on Starsky & Hutch. But my dad wasn’t talking about cop shows on TV. He was talking about an evil more depraved than anything I could imagine at the time.
Last night my eighth-grader son went to bed afraid and disturbed for the first time since he was little. The reason: his innocent world was shattered by the realization that monsters actually exist, but that they’re people and governments.
My son was assigned to write a report for German class on a topic of his selection, as long as it was about Germany. I suggested that he write about Auschwitz concentration camp since the 60th anniversary of its liberation was recently celebrated. We did a quick search on the Internet and got him started doing research.
My father grew up in wartime Germany. In the late 1930s German citizens (including my grandparents) were required to submit four generations of family history research to the government. While this later became useful to my family, the German government used it (unbeknownst to the populace) to determine who had Jewish ancestry.
Dad explained that at first they only heard rumors through underground news sources about certain families disappearing. It wasn’t until after Germany was conquered that the complete horrific truth became generally known. Dad wanted his children to know the terrible truth of the holocaust.
Dad also explained that we’re not immune in the U.S. He was shocked when he came here to find among certain people some of the same attitudes that had existed commonly among Nazis – people that would do anything “for the good of the fatherland.”
Last night as my son was finishing his report he came to my wife and said that he was feeling like he needed to vomit. Later, when he was ready to go to bed he needed my wife to tuck him in and soothe his disturbed soul. When I realized what had happened I felt sorry for suggesting the topic of Auschwitz. I realized that there had been a loss of a certain amount of innocence.
On the other hand, I am grateful that my son is horrified by the evil that was perpetrated at Auschwitz. If enough people are similarly horrified by evil of this nature, perhaps it can be avoided in the future. I just hope our upcoming generation doesn’t become too desensitized by the media to which they are exposed (games, movies, etc.) to feel the horror.