I had my first “real” day in Prague. This simply means that I got to go out and about. Many pictures were taken on my venture but before I post those and write of my jovial time on the streets of Prague, I feel I must also talk about what I read today. The book I want to talk about is called “The Holocaust: A Concise History” and it was written by Bergen. I do not wish to share the more well known facts or instances of the Holocaust but rather those pieces that surprised me or made me stop and really think.
It is so easy to overgeneralize the motives or mindsets of the German people during that time. I feel there are two common views of the German population: those who readily accepted information that Germans were acting on the defensive and ignorant about what atrocities were happening or those who were antisemitic and were fine with whatever means to purge of the Jews. In my reading though, I read of a man named Adolf Eichmann. He was key in transporting Jews to what was called the General Government and several concentration camps from around 1938-1944. In short, he was crucial in years of forced emigration. What caught my interest about this man was not what he did but his reasons for doing so. Once he went on trial in Israel for his crimes he adamantly stated that he was not an antisemitic. His reason for doing so was ambition to further his career and gain positive attention from Hitler. Moreover, Eichmann had NO formal authorization for his actions.
There was a line in the book that really got me thinking and the first part read, “We tend to assume that shared hardships draw people together.” Yes, that’s what I thought. I’ve frequently assumed that when a common enemy is shared that the better of humanity would come together despite previously felt ill feelings all for the sake of each others’ lives being made easier. However, the second part of that line read, “Often, however, quite the opposite occurs.” The page then goes on to detail the wedge that was furthered between the Polish Jews and Polish Christians. There is more evidence to support these ill feelings being less racial/religious and primarily based on economics. Life lost its inherent value. In one town in Poland an issue went out stating that 2.2 pounds of salt would be given to those who brought in the head of a Jew. Sometimes the offer would be bags of sugar or simply the right to whatever possessions the Jew had on them.
I leave this post with thoughts of sadness towards humanity. Life is something so precious and sacred. Reading these things makes me think of how many people would actually have the courage that I’m sure most of us would like to think we would have. More importantly, however, I am thankful and praise those who did have tremendous courage during that time.