Monday, June 05, 2006
Moral Ambiguity
I'm watching a Frontline special about a man who is Jewish, and escaped the Holocaust as a child. He is visiting Germany, and he is appalled at the lack of guilt among the younger generations of Germans. He is now an American Jew, but identifies with the ethnicity and culture of Judaism rather than the religiosity of Judaism. He is a non-religious Jew.

The Germans are building a monument to the memory of the six million Jews who were slaughtered in Nazi Germany. The German architects and designers proclaim that visitors should only feel a 'little' guilty about the Holocaust; otherwise, the art shall overcome the pain of the Death Camps. Our American Jew feels differently; he thinks the children and grandchildren of the Nazi Germans should feel great remorse and guilt over the Holocaust. But how can they? There are few Jews left in Germany, and those who remain are quiet as mice, and non-confrontational. I imagine they are still afraid for their lives, or, in the least, their livelihoods.

But I am also wracked by this question. This is a documentary about the Holocaust and its survivors and the lasting sentiment of anti-Semitism in Germany. But this is also a story of responsibility and the duty people have to feel guilty over crimes committed by their ancestors. This is touchy, to say the least.

Do we learn through guilt, or is it even our duty to feel guilty? Is the purpose of a memorial to feel guilt or simply remember the past? For instance: the American Government has not constructed a huge memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans we've wiped out. Even more telling, we have not constructed a method to enrich and improve on the reservations that are among us, today. Should we feel guilty for what has happened to the Native American? And isn't that, essentially, a much different question than the memorial of the Holocaust in Germany?

After all, my family did not slaughter any Indians. But we did farm the land they once roamed. And perhaps we had, in the past, thought there were no good Indians but dead Indians. I do not feel guilty about this. I am not one of those people.

To add in my two cents, I am of German descent. I do not feel guilty about the Holocaust. Oh, well, sure, in a universal sense, I feel guilty--humans are so horrible when under the guise of strong leadership, blah, blah, blah. But I personally feel absolutely no remorse for being German and having cousins and relatives in Germany who were children of Nazi regiments or whatever. It's not something I can be held responsible for. I don't think. Or, wait. Do I?

And then, I query this man, were he in front of me: how does he explain the persecution of Palestinians? Is that a different question than that of the Holocaust? Isn't it just as fragile and as important? Does he feel guilty for being a Jew?

In the show, we travel to an old library. It is one of the first places where Jews were persecuted in Germany. Their books were burned. Their writings--erased. In this small town in Germany, there stands the library. And as we walk through, we see the floor has been dug out in one portion. This is where a Jew hid during the Holocaust to create and remember works that had been lost. The community came to this room after World War II and made a memorial of the room. The ceiling is of plexiglass, so that we can look down into this memorial. The light is brilliant and false. And inside this white, white room, we see shelves upon shelves--all empty. Empty shelves is just one tiny memorial to the lives lost. It is haunting--and I feel just a little guilty.
Written by FRITZ
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Name: Fritz

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