A New Year's Wish
“All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers.” - Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone/Deaths-Head Revisited (1961)
Not very long ago, I offered a new friend this observation: Nobody built Buchenwald - just ask them.
Oh, sure, that fellow poured some steel for rails and that other one laid some track to the middle of nowhere. It was good to see the economy picking up! And this one merely put up a few sections of fencing, while that one built some barracks. There’s no harm in any of those things, although it's strange that the fence tops angle inward. And that group over there built a few crematoriums - but what’s wrong with that? They use them everywhere. Maybe it's for livestock. And this group laid some gas lines into a big, empty field. Odd but - shrug - it’s a job. Nothing illegal. Maybe they’re building a factory. It’s not my business.
No, nobody seems to have built Buchenwald. Yet somehow it came into being anyway – along with Belzec and Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen and Treblinka and Sobibor and Dachau and more. And they left a stain on the collective soul of humanity that can never be bleached out. Because good people did nothing - or worse, they did something - some little, disconnected, insignificant thing - without any mind to why they were doing it.
They ignored their suspicions and fears. They turned a blind eye to what was going on in front of them. They didn’t want to disturb their content and complacent world view. They didn't want to jeopardize their jobs or their pensions. They didn’t want to say something foolish and be ostracized by their neighbors. Worse, they didn’t want to act up and draw the ire of their political leaders.
So they just went to work. They just built a fence. They just laid some track. They just did their job. Then they went home, had dinner with their families, and convinced themselves that they didn’t hear certain sounds, smell certain smells. And history was written.
It is now 2015, and our turn to write history. May it show that we refused to be the gravediggers of our nation.