During the Adolph Eichman trial which started on April 11, 1961 in Jerusalem, Israel, an elderly victim of the concentration camps living in Europe was brought into the courtroom to be a witness. As his eyes fell upon Eichman he collapsed and was rushed to a local hospital. When he returned to consciousness those in attendance commiserated with him regarding the understandable shock of his seeing this “monster” again.
No, the gentleman explained, his shock was not in seeing a “monster” in the docket, but only a frightened old man. His shock, he replied, was due to the sudden realization that the “monster” is actually something which lives inside all of us.
On July 10, 1941 half of the population of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, who had been their neighbors. Of the 1,600 Jews living in this town only about a dozen survived that day. Unspeakable atrocities were committed in full view of the town itself.
(Gross J: Neighbors, Princeton Univ. Press, 2001).
Why did lifetime neighbors murder their neighbors? George Will believes that they did so because they were permitted to carry out this behavior without having any chance of being held responsible for their actions. In other words, because they could. (Will G: Opinions, Newsweek, July 6, 2001).
German Wehrmacht sergeant Anton Schmidt was executed by his Nazi colleagues in 1942 after he disobeyed orders and assisted Jews in the Vilnius, Lithuania, ghetto. “I merely behaved as a human being” he wrote to his wife. His actions were something few other people in Hitler’s Reich had the courage to do. After 58 years the German government, through its Defense Minister, Rudolf Sharping, finally honored the memory of Anton Schmidt (Ref: Roger Cohen, N.Y. Times, May 14, 2000).
In 1939 Vladimir Uhlir was a medical student at the Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia when his country was occupied by the Nazis. He was forced into being a concentration camp slave laborer until liberated by the Russians in 1945. After attempting to help friends escape to the West from East Germany he was arrested by the Russians and, once again, became a slave laborer in a concentration camp. After a number of years he was finally released and came to the United States where he, and his family, at last found haven and a happy life. The Editor worked with Mr. Uhlir, who became a medical research associate in Seattle, Washington in the late 1960s. He would, on occasion, after late hours of investigative work, relax and talk about his past. No one knew more about concentration camps and human survival than Vladimir. He recalled that when conditions were really bad the average inmate’s social veneer would evaporate and they would sink to the lowest depths of depravity in order to survive. There were, however, always a few individuals he stated,who, no matter how bad the adversity and duress, never compromised their humanity and would chose death rather than debasing their values.
Diogenes of Sinope is best remembered for the apocryphal story that he traveled about ancient Greece searching for an honest man. Diogenes was a Cynic. One of the objectives of Cynicism was the achieving of self-sufficiency because this was an important quality by which freedom was obtained. While much of Diogenes conduct (as documented by the third century Roman author Laetius Diogenes) would not be considered social by today’s values Diogenes of Sinope did stand for honesty and pointed out the “artificiality” of so-called “civilized” behavior and definitions of integrity. See Axolotl