The Man and The Machine
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
We talk about the Holocaust as if it’s the elephant in the room, or as if it’s something far away, “Oh, yes, it was very wrong and should never happen again. Moving on-”
We talk about the Holocaust as if there is nothing we could do about it. The Americans came in and liberated the camps, right? Good enough. We did our part. Nothing else to be done.
We talk about the Holocaust in a way that ensures that we will let it happen again. If not right in this moment, than 5 years from now. If not then, than sometime in the near future. The time frame is irrelevant, the certainty of history repeating itself through negligence is unacceptable.
The Holocaust was not just a historical tragedy. It was the methodical detainment and execution of over six million Jewish, Polish, Roma, LGBTQIA+, Disabled and defiant individuals. It was methodical, it was atrocious, and it was entirely dependent on the mass apathy of the average citizens who allowed it to happen.
The Holocaust, and the concentration camps that allowed it to function, were not maintained and run by monsters, though their actions were downright monstrous. They were run by people.
Average people. People just doing their jobs. People concerned with the security of their country. People who wanted to put “Germans First.” It was guarded and supervised and executed by Germans who looked at the prisoners they were keeping and killing, and thought, “You are a danger to my country because of who you are.”
The Holocaust was witnessed not by monsters, but by the average citizen, though their apathy was monstrous.
It was witnessed by the German citizen, who looked away as their Jewish neighbors had their homes and shops vandalized and told to register with the government. The average citizen who joined the party, not because they agreed with all the rhetoric, but because their business would do better and their neighbors would approve. The man who sat and listened to his pastor cry out against the misdoings of the party and when his pastor was arrested, thought to himself, “He was outspoken.”
The average citizen who heard about another newspaper shut down by order of the Reich and scoffed, “They were unpatriotic.”
The man and woman who were unperturbed by their daughter’s questions about why their Jewish neighbors were forced into the ghettos. “Well,” they answered, “That’s just the way it is.”
The average person who watched as their fellow citizens and community members were marched through the streets towards the nearest camp and felt nothing but apathy of relief that the government was finally doing something about the city’s “undesirables.”
These people were not monsters. They were average, normal people. Just like you and me. And what they did was monstrous.
Without them, the Holocaust never could have happened.
We are no better.
We average people. We have jobs. We have families. We have businesses. We have our own life problems. Our own obligations. Our own circles of self interest. We don’t always have time or the desire to dedicate to politics or social concerns.
But we cannot allow ourselves to become apathetic to injustice.
Large scale atrocities like the Holocaust are not self-evident or inevitable. They have to be planned, executed and maintained. Atrocities are like a complex machine that requires every part to agree to the violence it will commit in order for it to function.
Our indifference to suffering is saying yes, we will allow the machine to keep running.
By being apathetic to the suffering of others, we allow the machine to run.
By belittling another group, who fill the streets with protests and are screaming out against injustices committed against them, we allow the machine to run.
By constantly demonizing people who follow a certain religion, or who love differently than we do, or who are in way different from our community, we allow the machine to run.
We allow it.
Atrocities are weak, fickle, things. They are responsive to every non-compliant component. They have to address every problem, every inch of resistance, or else the entire machine will break down. They depend on the collective indifference of the people in order to function. They run off of petty ideas of hate, greed, xenophobia, racism, sexism and other baseless claims of “superiority.”
Atrocities are shallow, fragile, things. They are the man behind the curtain, and they only exist when they think that the people, with all their power, will not see them or object.
They are the machines of cowards.
And it is time for us to stop allowing them to run.