-A Writer's Reflection

The Motivation for the Holocaust




Rolf had avoided any events that reminded him of his past, but when he heard Selig Baar was speaking he had to go. Rolf saw it as an opportunity to let go of his past; the guilt he had been hiding for six decades. Selig Baar was speaking at a local museum after screening of the documentary The Motivation for the Holocaust. Rolf did not want to watch documentary. He was not keen on living his past again. He only wanted to ask a question to Selig.

Rolf went to the museum at 6. When he entered the small auditorium, an old man wearing rectangle glasses was walking lethargically to the front. Rolf recognized Selig walking to the front. Before Selig turned around, Rolf quickly slipped into a seat in the last row. The auditorium was small. Scanning the atmosphere, Rolf saw around 70 people in 100 seats. All the members of audience were in awe and unable to move. Holocaust had been mesmerizing people for years. It had the same effect on that day.

Between two rows of seats, a microphone was getting the most attention. Before Selig settled into his chair and took charge of his microphone, three people lined up to ask question. 

“Thank you all for joining us today and once again please welcome Selig Baar.” A female voice filled the auditorium. Rolf could not see her from his seat. He did not make any effort also, as Rolf was avoiding eye contact with Selig. “The word holocaust in the context of World War 2 was synonymous with gas chambers. However, as we saw today, there was much more to it. It started years before the world war. It was more than gas chambers, unethical taxation, segregation, racism, eviction, mass graves, murders, loot and many more words can be used to describe them. Selig Baar is here with us: one of the survivors of those terrible times. Please ask your questions.”

Rolf adjusted in his seat to have a look at Selig’s face. After six decades, the man was distant resemblance to his younger self. Selig’s saggy face, big bones, thin hairs were evident of the time passed. Selig was no longer the skinny blond boy Rolf remembered. 

“Do you hate Germans?” The first question was fired at Selig.

Selig laughed loudly. “This is one question I prepared answer for. I didn’t expect it to be the first one though. I am German. Can I hate myself?” Many members of the audience chuckled with Selig. “I understand your question. Holocaust was not a showdown between German and Jews. I believe except for Denmark and Finland, local authorities and structure participated in holocaust. France, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, you name it. Neighbors, friends, classmates, colleagues, employers, they all participated. On the other hand, Romas, some ethnic Polish leaders were also killed. I have never been anything else than German. How can I hate Germans?” Even though Rolf avoided the movie, he could not avoid the memories. He was shifting in his chair. He was uncomfortable. The discussion was already unbearable.

“Mr. Baar. Thank you for being here today. That was an inspiring movie. I loved the stories of survivors, because we all have heard horrible stories of deaths and killings. First time I saw so many stories of triumph over evil. Can you shed some light on your thoughts on this movie?” Second question was asked to Selig.

Selig coughed. “My thoughts. The movie you saw was the life we lived. This movie is about human interactions in the wake of the tragedy. Every person is driven by something. Greed, Compassion, Love, Hate, Jealousy. When greed, jealousy, hate took over a person they reported us to the authorities, participated in killings, robbed our belongings. When compassion, love, care won, they helped us. In the end, all those people survived because someone on the other side helped them at great risk. I remember one instance when a Nazi officer called an old Jew friend advising him to leave the city. This movie is beyond the holocaust itself. It speaks of human interaction in those difficult times. It highlights the complexity of those interactions.”

“What, in your opinion, did drive betrayal of friends? How could a neighbor turn a blind eye and commit such a horrific act?” Third question was asked. The microphone was solitary again as all three questioners took their seats. 

“One thing Nazis did right was segregation. They identified us and segregated us. After that, negative emotions were enough to drive the rest of the horror. How many of you can positively say that you have never been jealous of any of your neighbors? None.” Selig counted raised hands in the audience. Rolf was at the peak of uneasiness by then. He knew if he did not get up at that moment, he would lose his courage. Rolf got up to move towards the solitary microphone, but he kept a low profile and looked sideways. He did not want Selig’s attention. Selig continued, “But I realize you don’t kill them. The reason: They are integrated and part of the society. Similarly, many Jews were integrated into the society. They attended the same school, lived within the same community, played together. When Nazis segregated them, the integration was gone. The barrier vanished. There was no inhibition. People believed that Jews were non-significant. And if you discriminate or harm Jews, you had no repercussions. In fact, peer pressure ensured, in many cases, that you do not stand with the Jews. If you were jealous of a Jew, you had a reason and no inhibition. If you hate, you had a reason and no inhibition. If you were greedy, you had a reason and no inhibition. Many officers were simply doing their duty. If you teach a soldier in army to kill an enemy, he is not making any judgment as to who the enemy is or what are the crimes. He is simply following orders and doing his duties.” Selig stopped for a while. Rolf was between two rows of seats slowly walking towards the microphone. He had his hand on his forehead to avoid seeing eye to eye with Selig. After deep breath Selig continue, “In absence of an inhibition, every human fights a battle between negative and positive motivation. Many times whichever side wins, decided his action. However, all of us at times are simply incapable of fighting the battle and go with the flow. Nazis created a flow and many just followed. Nonetheless, not all was bad. You saw the movie. Many Jews survived. They survived through good fortune and kind and love of non-Jews.”

Rolf was at the microphone. He said, “What is your story?” Selig looked up. Rolf and Selig were looking into each other’s eyes after six decades. A light in Selig’s eyes assured Rolf that they both recognized each other.

Selig said, “You ask my story. I was betrayed, by a friend. My best friend for ten years told Nazis about us. They came after my family and me. We had to run. And then.” Selig paused for a moment. Rolf was not blinking. Selig continued looking at the blank face of Rolf, “My father had a shop in the village. His neighbor was a wealthy man. He had the biggest shop in the village. He took us and kept us in his basement for eight years. We hardly saw the daylight for eight years. But finally, we were able to start the new life. We were lucky than the most. We did not have to leave our village, though we lost everything we had, including our hope. How can I hate Germans? I was betrayed by one, I was saved by one and I am one.” Selig and Rolf were staring at each other by the time.

Gathering courage, Rolf followed up, “Do you hate your friend?”

Selig removed his glasses and wiped his face with his hands. He looked into Rolf’s eyes and said, “No Rolf. I do not hate you. How did you hate me?” Audience gasped.

“I did not,” Rolf cried. “I did not hate you. I was eleven years old. As you said, I had no inhibitions and negative feeling called fear won. You were always top of the class. You were always ahead of me in studies. I feared lagging behind. I saw it as an opportunity. I thought by complaining about you, you will be thrown out of school and I would be the best student. I never meant any harm to you. It was childish. I had been carrying this guilt for years. This is my chance to apologize. I could not change the history, but I could acknowledge my mistake.”

Selig stood up. “The reason my story was not part of that movie, because I could not muster the words, my friend betrayed me. I could only say it today because I was looking at you. It took us 6 decades, but we met.” Selig and Rolf walked towards each other and hugged. The audience applauded. They witnessed one more story of win from holocaust. 

P.S.: Above story is fictional, but it is inspired from a real exhibition at the National Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. The Holocaust has been symbolized by all the atroctities and brutalities, but “Some were neighbors” exhibition highlights human connections and dynamics during the holocaust. If you get a chance, please go and see it. Here is the website for the reference: http://somewereneighbors.ushmm.org/

The Motivation for the Holocaust The Motivation for the Holocaust Reviewed by Mihir on 9:27:00 PM Rating: 5

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