14 October 2008

Blindness

Why did no one fight back?

If over six million Jews were killed by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945 – over a million of them in Auschwitz concentration camp itself – surely some of these Jews could have formed resistance groups and risen up against the Nazis? But, why didn’t they? Why did they meekly surrender to the Nazis when the Nazis came marching into their towns and went knocking on their doors?

Was the might of the Nazis so overpowering that the Jews were paralysed by fear? Were the Jews so religious in principle and practice that they decided not to pick up arms against the Nazis, even to protect themselves and their loved ones? Were the Jews so widespread in Europe that they couldn’t come together in time to form a line of defence, or even sabotage Nazi initiatives against them?

What could explain the inconceivable passivity with which the Jews across Europe surrendered to the Nazis? Is this some giant mystery of the twentieth century?

In his autobiographical writing, Night, Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, gives an example of the ‘blindness’ with which the people from his small town of Sighet, in Transylvania, responded to the Nazi aggression during WW2. He suggests that it was a sort of blindness – the inability of the people of Sighet to take cognisance of Nazi aggression and atrocities against the Jews around them – that drove the Jews to their horrible fate.

Here’s an excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s Night:

“Spring 1944. Splendid news from the Russian Front. There could no longer be any doubt: Germany would be defeated. It was only a matter of time, months or weeks, perhaps.

The trees were in bloom. It was a year like so many others, with its spring, its engagements, its weddings, and its births.

The people were saying, ‘The Red Army is advancing with giant strides… Hitler will not be able to harm us, even if he wants to…’

Yes, we even doubted his resolve to exterminate us.

Annihilate an entire people? Wipe out a population dispersed throughout so many nations? So many millions of people! By what means? In the middle of twentieth century!

And thus my elders concerned themselves with all manner of things – strategy, diplomacy, politics, and Zionism – but not with their own fate.”


[Citation: Night by Elie Wiesel, translated from the French by Marion Wiesel, Hill and Wang publishers, 2006.]

2 comments:

Nayana Karia said...

"The individual is handicapped by coming face to face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists."J.Edgar Hoover

runawaysun said...

Probably true. The question is: was it the conspiracy, or the monstrosity of it, or a combination of both that defied acceptance? During the Holocaust, the Jews in Europe seem to have experienced 'mass paralysis'.

J Edgar Hoover ought to know. He's been a part of quite a few conspiracies in his time.