A few months ago at the C’s I saw a book called “Parallel Journeys” sitting on the table. It was based off of two autobiographies of a Hitler Youth leader and a concentration camp survivor. WWII stories always attract my attention. I find them riveting, sickening, and inspiring all at the same time. This one didn’t disappoint, and also added a lot of food for thought.
The contrast between the lives of Jew and German was probably one of the most striking things. You follow the story of one of the most privileged Germans alongside the story of one of those who went through what some have called the “closest thing to hell on earth.” You wonder how the two can exist side-by-side, in the same country, at the same time.
An interesting comment was how the “war changed womanhood.” Alfons Heck mentioned that in Germany the ideals for women that were around at the beginning of he war were kitchen, children (and one other, I don’t remember). But as the war went on it required women to take on jobs that took them out of the home and when the war ended, they didn’t return to the old “ideals.” (I don’t want to go into details here about why those ideals are good, but there’s a long article that my dad wrote).
But there were two big thoughts: the first, to forgive. The second, to never let it happen again.
By the end of the book, Alfons Heck and Helen Waterford had met and were speaking to people together. Ms. Waterford’s comment when people asked her if or how she could have forgiven Mr. Heck was that she didn’t see something she had to forgive him for. This is a very interesting position, and I think it can be interpreted a number of ways.
The first is that while Mr. Heck was involved with the Nazis, he was not personally involved in anything with the Jews. So Ms. Waterford felt there was nothing to forgive, because he had not done anything against her (and I think this intepretation could even go further, that even if Mr. Heck was involved with the Jews, it was not personal – he did not do anything against Ms. Waterford).
A second interpretation which was talked about more in the book, was that because Mr. Heck was so young, he did not need to be held responsible for his actions. There’s a sense in which I agree with this. He did not know what was going on. He did not know the Jews were being killed. He thought he was helping Germany and helping the man who had restored Germany after the war. He had been brainwashed. And yet, he still took part in it, so he was still involved in the wrongs that were going on.
I don’t know how far to take that. I don’t think the question should be of people being “too young” to understand, but that what was happening to the Jews was carefully hidden and worded so it seemed harmless. What I do know is that whether or not a person is responsible for their actions, people who have been hurt by them still must forgive, and I think that those who harmed others, whether or not they knew it, must also ask forgiveness when they see what they have done.
Why is forgiveness so important? Ms. Waterford talks about this a lot. Genocide, then and now, occurs because of hate. True forgiveness does not allow hate to fester, thus genocide cannot continue. And this brings us to the second big point: that we cannot allow it to happen again.
This struck very deeply with me, especially after having read for the first time about how Hitler came to power – how he “saved” the country and seemed so good. Mr. Heck comments that if Hitler had died before a certain year (I don’t remember what it was), he would be remembered as a hero. He was a good speaker and he helped Germans “recover” from what the repercussions of World War I. He got into the schools, getting the young on his side. And he used an assassination attempt to limit free speech, saying that if they did so, the “evil Communists” would be stopped. The documentary “The Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler” has a lot more on this. I have yet to finish it, but so far it’s very interesting.
I think it’s a warning for us today, and we need to be on our guard and not succumb to hype. Mr. Heck also talked about teaching our children so they will not follow a man like Hitler, either.
An important part of “never again” seems to be “never forget.” There are so many things we must not forget. The heartbreak of children fighting. Even worse, the children dying in concentration camps – or before they really even made it to one. Alfons Heck talks about being burdened when he found out what had happened. The horror of so many dead, the brainwashing and the lies.
Helen Waterford said that to condemn all the Germans is the same as the Germans condemning the Jews. There are people who hate Germans. I’m sure that in all the world, you’ll find people who together would hate everything and everyone. We need to learn what hate does.
And we also need to learn how to speak about the hate, not to let it fester, but instead to reconcile with each other, and most importantly, with God.
Helen Waterford wondered why she was spared when so many died. She commented that we may not know why we are spared – but when we are, we must live for the truth. I applaud her and Alfons Heck for doing so. And it’s a lesson for us all to learn. God doesn’t have to let us live. But He does. Let’s be careful with our time – redeem it. Forgive. Pass on wisdom to others. Use your days for Truth.
Read the book, or you can also watch some documentaries on Youtube. I’ve watched this one, but have yet to finish this one, so I can’t vouch for what’s in it. The first one was similar to the book, but in less detail. There are some black and white shots of concentration camp; I don’t think they were “too bad,” but they were still piercing.
And my favorite “tribute” to the Holocaust – John Williams & Paul Wylie, with “Never again” emblazoned on Mr. Wylie’s vest.