Author Archive

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Is The Worst Really Over?

June 24, 2010

Reflecting upon the Holocaust, the Nazis and WWII at wide I did not think that such an oppressive government would rise to power in Germany for years to come if ever again.  Boy was I wrong.  After reading about the GDR, going through the Stasi prison as well as the Stasi center that contained information of all Germans living in the GDR during their reign, it is clear to me living conditions for many did not change at all. 

The extent to which the Stasi were involved in people’s lives and dictating every move is almost unimaginable.  I mean, when we toured the place that had all former residents of the GDR and their information documented on little note cards, that was almost too much for me to comprehend.  I didn’t think that a government could be that organized and in everyone’s lives—but clearly that is possible.  When I saw actual booklets, very thick booklets, of information gathered about certain individuals I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Our guide discussed how most of this information was obtained through secret spies.  These spies could be your co-workers, neighbors, or even your spouse!

In my perspective, violence was the only means upon which the Stasi was able to maintain control.  If people did not spy for them, dress they way they wanted, or had an alternative perspective on the information they were learning in school, they were punished.  People feared for their lives.  But I guess I would too if people were suddenly disappearing and never returning.  And if people did eventually return, it was apparent they were traumatized and beaten to the extreme.  The Stasi had their own prisons; the one in particular we visited was unknown to almost everyone who lived in the town.  Obviously horrible things were happening there if the government did not want its own citizens even knowing of the prison’s existence.

In this prison, prisoners were interrogated, tortured, and many times died of poor living conditions.  Most depressing for me was those people who had formally been imprisoned under the Nazi regime, were set free, only to be detained again during the GDR.  Looking at the pictures below, the gates and the barbed wire is very reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps.  I can’t help but to draw a connection between the two.

 

The people that were imprisoned twice were “enemies” to both the Nazi and the Stasi regimes and were dangerous because they encouraged beliefs that questioned the rule of government.  Some of these “enemies” never hurt anyone or caused any damage but to only have a different view point that was extreme and dangerous to each regime’s ideology.  So again, the German people turned their head to what was going on!!  It was simply impossible to have an extreme viewpoint and consequently they turned out to be the true homo sacer of German society.  Nobody cared about these people or what happened to them.  This leads me to want to further examine the current condition of the United States and the continual acceptance of certain individuals or groups of people to be homo sacer.

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Punishment, Acceptance & Denial

June 24, 2010

After the Nazis were defeated, what would be next for Germany?  How were the German people going to deal with everything that the Nazis had done?  Throughout the trip I managed to piece together some sort of picture of how the German people did deal with it.  During the 1950’s, Germany was reconstructing their entire livelihood from their government to their cities and more intimately to their homes.  Germany was in shambles and instead of focusing on what had actually happened, most notably the extermination of millions of people, I think they simply chose to ignore it.  Focusing attention on rebuilding Germany is a good distraction and enabled an entire generation that lived through the Nazi regime to simply forget and ignore the previous fifteen years.  Looking at this result initially, I couldn’t believe that this could actually happen after such a catastrophe—and then I tried to put myself in their shoes.  From a German perspective, losing the war was embarrassing; not just that, but many German citizens looked the other way when the Nazi atrocities were happening in their own country—maybe they didn’t know how to cope with it?

It wasn’t until 1968 that this coping mechanism was questioned.  More importantly, it was the next generation, the children of the people who lived in the Nazi regime, that were asking their parents questions.  What was your part in WWII?  Were you a Nazi?  Did you resist?  Did you know about the concentration camps?  Did you know that millions of people were being exterminated just miles from our home?  Why didn’t you tell me about this before?  Still today, I’ve noticed that it is hard for descendants to discuss about their relatives if indeed they were a Nazi.  Of course people want to say that their relatives were resisters and tried to help the Jews, but in fact resisters were few and far between.

It’s amazing to me that in the following years after the Nazis fell, many people closely involved with the Nazis who carried out their orders were never punished.  In fact, many went on living life to the fullest and continued on with their careers.  I wonder how a doctors, after killing and experimenting on prisoners in concentration and extermination camps can simply forget what they had done.  While we toured the concentration camp, the guide told us that many of the doctors that worked in the camp simply went back home and continued to practice medicine.  Below are two pictures that portray the normality that went on the years following the war.  The first picture is that of a former Nazi that worked in a concentration camp that got convicted in court, went to prison for three years and then simply went back to his normal life; you can see his ease in watering his plants.  The next picture is of three men who were not directly involved with the Nazis, but were clear supporters, who 5 years after the war obviously still supported them (look at their neck piece).

 

I think that the process of investigation and punishment towards those involved with the Nazi regime was poorly set.  Many people went free from punishment.  This is definitely a situation where we as a society can learn how to better handle a situation if it were to happen again.  But in a sense we haven’t learned at all.  Who has been punished for what happened in Rwanda or in former Yugoslavia?  What has been done to improve this process?  As a society, are we simply ignoring the situation or worse yet, denying that genocide is still happening as justification of inaction?

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Those Who Resisted….But More Importantly Those Who Survived

June 23, 2010

Throughout the trip I think too often I focused upon those who suffered and died.  After going through the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt, resistance for some Germans and Jews were made real.  It is easy to look at pictures in museums or read information from books, but experiencing the actual place where Jews worked and hid really made an impact on me—it gave true meaning to resistance during this time.  As I walked through the museum, actual brushes that the factory made were present; real passports and photographs were presented.  But it was a big picture of Otto Weidt himself and his staff that pulled me into the exhibit.  The very place I was standing was where most of these workers walked and stood.  Looking closer at the picture, you can actually see a few smiles here and there, which I scarcely have seen of Jews at this time in history.  Smiles must be a sign of some happiness.

Otto Weidt and his staff

Otto Weidt treated his employees as though they were irreplaceable and did everything in his power to save his workers.  He even went so far as to falsify documents and personally went to concentration camps to get them!  As tensions rose in Germany, Weidt went a step further and hid an entire family behind a closet.  Looking within the space the family lived in, it was an eerie feeling to know that a group of people were forced to live in such a confined space, fearing for their life every second of every day, in order to survive.

Actual Room Where Weidt Hid a Family in his Shop

Hiding and working in the shop was a tool for resistance.  As a German, Weidt resisted by doing all he could to save as many Jews as he could—especially those most vulnerable like the deaf and blind.  He put his life on the line for doing what was right.  I honestly wonder how so many Germans turned the other way or ignored all the atrocities that were going on?  Sure, the Nazis threatened anyone who defied their authority but living with the guilt that you did nothing is almost worse.  The Jews that worked and hid in the shop was a clear act of resistance as well.  They did not except their fate that the Nazis had planned out for them.  They needed to survive—survival was the ultimate resistance that I think a Jew could accomplish.

This particular exhibit is different than the rest in that it was developed out of a student project.  I really love that German students started this and developed it into what it is today; I wish more things like this were done in the United States to commemorate American Indians, slaves, and Americans who helped to resist and survived.  Methods of resistance in U.S. history are a rare story told throughout our education.  These stories could be used as a tool to help educate and facilitate understanding for the American community.  It would widen the scope of American history for the slaves and American Indians and turn the focus of victimization to resistance and survival.