How Could They Let That Happen to Themselves? Nanny A’s Story
The title of this post was the big question in last week’s discussion with Nanny A. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to finishing the post till today. It is not the most beautiful or perhaps even coherent/cohesive piece of prose, but I think it gets my point across.
An elderly woman I know heard that I was trying to record my grandmother’s story. She commented to me,
“What a crazy time in history. How could people do that to other people? They just loaded them onto trains and took them away to die”.
She continued, “And how could they let that happen to themselves?”.
What? Did she really say that? This was coming from a Jewish woman of European ancestry who was born in Canada in the early part of the twentieth century. I was flabbergasted.
So, in Thursday’s interview, after some narrative from Nanny, I told her about my conversation with this other woman. And she wasn’t surprised.
In fact, she shook her head sympathetically and said, “oh honey, she just doesn’t understand”.
Of course she doesn’t understand. And if she doesn’t understand then there must be many who don’t understand, many who feel that those who were killed were at least partially responsible for their fate. Was this the sentiment among Canadians who lived through that time, the sentiment of Jewish Canadians even? And if that was/is the sentiment, then could this easily happen again?
Well, to figure it out, or at least get some sort of understanding, I asked this question:
Before the German occupation did you live freely, the way you know I live here?
The answer was simply “no”.
Before the German occupation in 1941 there was the Russian occupation in 1939. The Russians came in and confiscated all Jewish property. They told the Jewish families that they could no longer live in the city. They found lodging with various customers (my great grandfather was a lumber merchant) in the surrounding villages.
And before that, Jews were not considered equal. A couple of examples: Only a very few were admitted to high schools and universities, where they were teased and ostracized; Jewish marriages were not considered legal (many Jewish children of the time had their maternal last name since they were considered bastards).
It appears the dehumanization process had begun well before the Germans arrived. The Jewish population did not feel equal and thus it was easy to gradually beat them down to the point where they were fighting against each other to survive, or just plain giving up and getting on the trains without a fight.
Before the trains had even arrived to begin to transport the human cattle, 5,000 people in town had been shot on the street or taken to one of the big mass grave sites and shot. Everyone knew this was happening; they saw it everywhere.
So, if you had the choice to get on the train or be shot on site (cause you had seen it happen to the guy next to you), I think you would get on the train too, right?
And that is what I would like to tell that woman – and all those who, like her, in some way, believe those who are oppressed, mentally, physically, and emotionally beaten down, are somehow, at least partially responsible for their own demise.
But I won’t tell her that because I am conditioned to respect my elders.
But the thing is, this is happening today in other parts of the world – and the victims are not responsible; but we are (at least partially) responsible, just the same way the silent North Americans were (at least partially) responsible for taking their sweet time even after they knew what was happening in Europe in 1942.
More on this week’s session soon, so stay tuned!