Coming home from
The movie was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, filmed in
Who he is supposed to be is never made entirely clear, but it’s obvious enough that he has been appointed the commandant of a concentration camp that anyone who knows something of the Shoah will recognize as
A few months ago, I wrote to you about Markus Zusak’s book, The Book Thief, which is also being made into a movie that will be released next year. That story too had this same notion at its core: that the perpetrators themselves were victims of forces they could never correctly perceive nor, needless to say, adequately control. And so we see ourselves being exposed again and again to this new wrinkle in the world’s effort to understand the Shoah: that rather than being the work of evil people intent on making war on the House of Israel, the Holocaust was some sort of evil miasma that settled on Europe in the 1940s almost arbitrarily making some into the murderers and others into the murdered, but leaving no one free to choose his or her destiny. This kind of universalization of history—that everything happens to everybody because we are all one gigantic organic whole, one happy family of all humankind—is the antithesis of the Jewish worldview and we should do what we can to combat it before it gains any more traction in society.
The Shoah was not an unavoidable catastrophe that “just” happened, like a tsunami or an earthquake. It was a war declared by a nation in thrall to the devil on a people whose national ethos since its birth has only been to serve God. And the nations of the world are not peopled by marionettes unable to act in accordance with the moral principles they claim to espouse, but by men and women possessed of the ability to do good in the world or, if they so choose, to inflict indescribable suffering on others. The Shoah was not the unavoidable destiny of the German people, thus an instance of really, really bad national karma, but the malign offspring of the unholy union of moral depravity and intellectual corruption. It was not something that simply had to happen. Just the opposite is true, in fact: the effort to eradicate the Jewish people was undertaken consciously and purposefully by people who were acting fully in sync with the values they openly espoused and the immoral and degenerate worldview they publicly embraced. Blurring the boundary lines between perpetrators and victims serves no one: not the memory of the martyrs, but also not the surviving perpetrators themselves either, men and women whose only hope for redemption lies, to the extent it exists at all, in the kind of atonement that can only come with focused and deeply introspective self-analysis of the most painfully wrenching kind.