Saturday, September 27, 2014

Thoughts on They Thought They Were Free

Every Thursday a small group of strong-minded high school students gather with me around my dining room table to discuss together our current read, They Thought They Were Free, published in 1955 and written by Milton Mayer, an American journalist of German heritage and Jewish ancestry. In the late 1940's he determined to discover the motivation for the atrocity of WWII death camps. He befriended ten "little men" (self-described), all card-carrying members of the Nazi party in Germany. An in-depth look at the mind of the everyday Nazi during the 1930's and early '40's, this book provides ample fodder for contemplation, challenge, and debate.

At one point, Herr Simon (one of our "little men") questions our author (Herr Professor) regarding the Japanese internment camps, referred to as the "West Coast deportation". Herr Simon puts it to our author quite pointedly:

"There. You learned about all these things openly, through your government and your press. We did not learn through ours. As in your case, nothing was required of us - and in our case, not even knowledge. You knew about these things you thought were wrong - you did think they were wrong, didn't you, Herr Professor?" 
"So. You did nothing. We heard, or guessed, and we did nothing. So it is everywhere."
When I protested that the Japanese-descended Americans had not been treated like the Jews, he said, "And if they had been - what then? Do you not see that the idea of doing something or doing nothing is in either case the same?"
Ah. That question. That pointed question. That finger pointing hand-on-hip question. 

Herr Simon submits that to be remiss on a smaller scale or less consequential level is equal to or paramount with failure in a mortal degree. In terms of the heart, his point is valid. 

Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 1 Cor. 5.6 NKJV
In terms of outward judgment of effect, he is wrong.

It is true that God judges the heart. If you commit murder in your heart, if you look at a woman with an adulterous eye, you have as much as committed that sin. But in a court of law you will not be tried for such. Until the act is committed, man is unable to pass judgment.

In our text, Nazi concentration camps with the extermination of Jews in mind is likened to Japanese internment camps. Although judgment of the heart may be attempted, and even used as a means for salving the troubled mind, such judgments will always be found wanting. In the case of 6 million Jewish lives evidence is sure, testimony true. The responsibility for murder is clear and required, and properly so.

Now a more current question: What do you know about, what have you heard about or guessed at in your world? Will you be questioned someday about your response and responsibility? What will your answer be? Were you one who stood in the gap, or one who turned a deaf ear to cries for help?

That is the pointed question that struck my heart. 

"Lord, forgive my complacency, my concern about my own food, house, and clothing. Forgive my willful small mindedness. We were made for bigger things, for largeness of heart if not mind. Let me see, know, and be moved by those around me who need You, for those pursued by evil who are in the enemy's crosshairs. Grant me a tender heart, large heart, wisdom that comes from above, and strength given by You and You alone to accomplish Your great will here on earth. Amen."