Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Having just read Anne Frank's diary I cannot help but ponder over questions regarding the Nazi persecution of European Jews during WW2, and of racial and religious hatred in general. In many ways Anne Frank was a slightly unique teenage girl: witty and intelligent beyond her years; Anne was constantly in a mode of self-assessment and self-improvement, not just academically but morally. Her descriptions of both the banal and the exceptional living conditions in which she found herself living under were vivid due to her writing abilities and philosophising mind. But, in other ways, Anne was a typical teenager with typical feelings of confusion, angst and alienation. What child of that age doesn't feel misunderstood by their parents, and by adults in general. It was this mixture of both her uniqueness and ordinariness that helps to draw the reader into her world, and leaves you pondering questions of humanity: the kindness and courage of some verses the cruelness and hatred of others.

The risks that many people took to hide and protect Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, as well as other persecuted peoples, was nothing short of heroic. To put themselves on the line in that way, knowing in full the penalties that await such people if caught, shows a beautiful mix of compassion and courage that makes you both sad and hopeful all at the same moment. Equally, Anne Frank's desire to live as full a life as possible whilst in hiding, and her commitment to do the same once the occupation was over, while all that time living in constant fear of capture, torture and death, is inspiring and heart-warming. When faced with such cruelty as was commonplace under Nazi rule, and also for those who unfortunately fell under imperial Japanese rule too, it's comforting to know so many people fought back, and not just with violence but with kindness too.

But what drives people to commit such abominable acts in the first place. The fact that a large group of people, in this case the Germans, can be so systematically cruel to another group of people, the Jews, is horrifying, and you can't help but wonder what horrors await us in the future. Having said that, we know many Germans at the time were repulsed by Hitler and the Nazi ideology, some fighting back while others were coerced or intimidated into playing along. Nevertheless, there was big support for Hitler among the German population, certainly at the beginning of the war, and anti-Semitism was rife. It's simply to easy and dismissive to label these people as brutes and animals, and it gets us nowhere in trying to understand what caused the support for this ideology.

At the time of Hitler's ascension to power, Germany was on it's knees economically, causing many hardships for ordinary people. We now know from experience that when people are suffering they often look for someone to blame. Extreme elements of society exploit this, often by pushing their own prejudices onto other people by blaming those who are different to them for societies ills. Hitler was clever and charismatic, and he seemed to be able to offer the Germans a way out of the mess they found themselves in. He gave them someone to blame and fight, someone they could hate - a common enemy. Unfortunately, a combination of Nazi propaganda and a feeling of helplessness among many sections of the German people, caused a nation to come together to fight for a deluded ideology that sickens me to my very core.

If we can agree that people aren't inherently cruel, born either good or evil with no room for movement between the two, then there must be cause for hope and optimism for the future. If we know that what drives people to do good or bad mostly depends on their environment, then as humans we must do our best to discourage unfavourable conditions, like poverty, and encourage socially desirable ones, like equality. We will never be able to entirely eradicate human cruelty from our repertoire, but lessening the conditions where this behaviour thrives would hopefully reduce the chances of us seeing such large scale atrocities like those we have witnessed in the past.    

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately we are now seeing it happen in Greece. With the economy on its knees we are seeing a rise in the popularity of extreme right wing groups who are using immigrants as scapegoats. Worrying times!