Friday, June 27, 2008

"They had many more things on their minds."

Richard John Neuhaus reflects on the complicity of the German people in the crimes of the Third Reich. He is commenting on Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution. Neuhaus summarizes Kershaw as saying about ordinary Germans that "many of them knew more about what was happening to the Jews than they would later admit, but they [Kershaw says] 'had many more things on their minds' than the fate of an unpopular minority." Neuhaus:
The Third Reich is rightly viewed as an icon of evil. This does not mean, as Ian Kershaw reminds us, that the ordinary Germans of the time are the icon of moral indifference or complicity in great evil. Then it was the Jews, the Slavs, and the gypsies. At other times, it is another class of human beings. Given the requisite mix of circumstances, which is not beyond imagination, it is an idle conceit to think that ordinary Americans would behave more nobly than did the Germans of Hitler’s day. Among any people of any time, moral courage is the exception and not the rule. There are heroes and heroines who contend against the great evils of their time, but even they must be selective. You may be devoting your life to helping the people of Sudan, but what are you doing to help prisoners of conscience in China, or to stop international sex trafficking, or to feed the hungry of Zimbabwe, or to relieve the loneliness of old people in the nursing home within an easy drive from your home? The list goes on and on.

“They had many more things on their minds.” And so do we all. Contemplating monstrous evils, such as the Third Reich, is not an occasion for preening in our supposed moral superiority but for humility, for self-examination, for renewed discernment of our duty, and for more earnest prayer for the coming of the promised Kingdom. [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Understanding the Third Reich and Other Great Evils

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