Holocaust understood

Posted on November 10, 2011
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For most of my life, I have been trying to understand how so many normal human beings allowed the WW II Holocaust to happen. I could not imagine a person going to work every day abusing, torturing and killing helpless men, women and children and then going home, eating dinner and getting a good night’s sleep.

The WW II Holocaust was not even the first such horror I learned about. As a young man, reading an anthology of great British reporting, I came across a first-hand report of the rapes and murders of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Turks during WW I. The Turks were not as mechanized and industrialized as the Germans. According to the report I read, platoons of soldiers went into the camp of victims every night raping and killing as many as they could with bayonets and swords.

How does one comprehend such horror?

Sadly, just this week, I think I finally know.

Apparently, for some 13 years the Athletic Director, and iconic football coach, Joe Paterno, and a graduate student all knew the graphic details of the rape of a 10-year-old boy and other abuse of children by an assistant coach. No one informed the police. The assistant coach continued on staff and continued to have the run of the university after retirement.

This is just the latest in a long line of revelations of members and hierarchies of institutions covering up abusive, illegal and disgusting behaviours of various kinds.

Churches, branches of the military, police, corporations and government members, departments and agencies have all been known to do the same thing.

One explanation of why Germans did not speak up or act was that they feared for their own lives and their families‘ safety if they did. Germany was ruled by a brutal dictatorship at the time.

In our society, so-called whistle blowers are often shunned, vilified, punished, exiled, or black balled for revealing corrupt behaviour in the institutions of which they are part. The layers in organizations seem to absorb and diffuse such breaches like ponds absorb ripples.

Information and outrage move up the line and peter out. It is someone else’s responsibility. We mind our own business. We are loyal to the team. We have each other’s backs. Not being without sin, we do not cast the first stone. Perhaps the victim shares the blame.

I think it is the information about how Joe Paterno’s entire leadership culture was about honour and fairness and decency that is so clarifying. If he could keep quiet about the information he had, what hope is there that less successful, less motivated, less powerful, less privileged, less secure people would do more?

I am rocked to think that the question, “Could it happen here?” has, for me, been answered.

It has happened. It is happening. It will continue to happen.

It is not so monumental or focussed or efficient as the Nazi Holocaust. It is thousands, millions, of crimes and abuses by thousands, millions, of people ignored by thousands, millions, of us.

The only remaining questions are, “Who would, who will, stand up for us? Would you, will you, stand up? Would I, will I?”. DAC


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