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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matters: Questions on the Holocaust

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Holocaust study recently conducted in the MMC junior high school by social studies teacher Ashley Ruehle was a well-designed and worthwhile project.

Though, as I read about it, I did wonder if concentrating only on the Jewish children might not have given those students a somewhat distorted picture of the whole horrible business. In addition to wondering why no one stood up to stop it, another equally significant question would have to be, "How did it happen that the people of one of the world's most developed cultures succumbed to this demented leader?"

By the time the ordinary German citizen realized there was something amiss, it was too late. We knew of one man, employed by a German company, who constantly railed against Adolph Hitler at his workplace.

Finally, his co-workers came to his wife and pleaded with her to get Karl to calm down or he would be spirited off by the authorities. He escaped that fate, but many were not so lucky. Before any Jews were taken, there were numbers of ordinary Germans interned, the Christian clergy chief among them.

The real story goes back to the aftermath of WW I. The Allies, in their eagerness to punish the enemy, made economic recovery impossible. In sharp contrast following WW II the Marshall Plan was implemented. It created a sound structure for rebuilding our enemy into one of our most supportive European friends.

After the first World War the Germans were in the depths of a depression; their national pride was crumbling about them. Thus, they became the ideal target for a fanatic tyrant. Hitler, with all of his faults, was an accomplished showman.

He knew all of the right buttons to push. Uniformed followers, stirring music, marches and salutes, all appealed to his countrymen. Removing the Christian leaders was a canny strategy. That, by the way, should be a warning to Americans who seem to be sitting idly by and watching the decline of the church in our own society.

Charismatic leaders still operate in the same way the world over. Chavez of Venezuela, Iranian leaders, Korea's dictator, the Castro brothers in Cuba are all current examples.We don't have to look back into "the dust bin of history" for warning signals.

Our great nation is suffering the biggest financial disaster since the great depression. Government leadership is fractured, seemingly unable to agree on much of anything.

As mentioned above, the churches, likewise, seem reluctant to take a united stand on anything that isn't "politically correct."

We may consider ourselves too wise and sophisticated to fall for goose-stepping and Nazi salutes, but it could be that our high-tech innovations have replaced those measures.

Now, anyone is able to post anything on the internet anonymously. Truth and falsehood have equal access. All of this could make it even easier to follow the footsteps of a Pied Piper.

These broader questions of the Holocaust have stark implications for today's society.

We can be grateful to innovative instructors, like Ruehle, for bringing these matters to the attention of her students, who, in turn, have given us all a lot of serious matters to think about.