After the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated on April 11, 1945, the political prisoners in the camp set up a tour of exhibits. On April 15, 1945, the German civilians from the nearby town of Weimar were brought to see the evidence of Nazi atrocities.
For years as I taught in a variety of high schools, I always cautioned students to understand that it was the Nazis, not the Germans, who caused the Holocaust. I was wrong.
While I realize that I am not a trained historian, what I have now come to realize is that it was the German people who allowed a dark-haired fanatic to convince them that he was their savior. They, the people of Germany, believed his tale of lies as a simple remedy to their suffering. They cheered during huge rallies when he told them that they were superior and would one day own the world. They marched to his music in concert with a disregard to any modicum of humanity. They watched as his toadies bombed, slaughtered, and plundered. If they saw or heard anything such as a train of people packed in boxcars passing their village, they lowered their heads because the train was not their problem. They allowed hatred to rule their conscience.
Courage comes in different forms. We all have the experience of shared courage—the kind that builds because we are part of a larger group, such as a team or combat unit. In the heat of a contest, be it one of a athletic game or firefight, individuals may commit acts that they would not do in other times. While some act may be done in such a situation, the adrenaline takes over and in the excitement of such a time, a person may act courageously. Any veteran of a battle will share that such a time will often produce an extraordinary act or acts.
Yet the courage I most admire is the one when a person takes a principled stand for a just reason. It is the moral courage that most impresses me. To turn against the rush of popular opinion, that swelling of lust that so often leads to failure, takes the kind of courage we so need in our country today. We are in desperate need of the courage displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—not the courage he displayed on the battlefield, but the courage he displayed before the House and the courage he showed as he was escorted from his job in the White House.
Yet here we are, months later, with our President and his toadies still carrying on as they continue the purge of all things decent. Here in Mooresville, people place flags and signs for Trump, 2020 along major roads. Yet they somehow ignore it when Trump is asked by a reporter in the Rose Garden if he accepts responsibility for the lack of testing kits, he says no, he does not. It’s Obama’s fault. Or someone’s, but not his.
I understand that many Americans despise certain elements of modern life. We are locked in battles over abortion, gay rights, transgender issuers, race, immigration, prayer in public schools, and more. Emotions are high and fragile. But emotions unchecked cause accidents.
Two books that I recommend are In the Garden of the Beasts and The Splendid and the Vile, both by Eric Larson. Reading them helped me clearly see that we, Americans, are in danger of becoming like the German folk of 1933 in the fanatical support for Trump. I have long viewed Trump as a Hitler like figure and that his toadies are much like Joseph Goebbels and other war criminals. They are corrupt but convince people that they are the cure for political and social ills. They are, however, dangers to democracy because they build with straw on no foundation but what is advantageous for them. They offer simple solutions for complex problems.
We are like the German citizens of Weimar: We can ignore the large concentration camp on the hill above our village; We can make excuses for the stench that floats over our village; We can put our heads down so as not to see the trains arriving to Buchenwald; We can.
But we can also follow the example of Vindman and others. We can demonstrate moral courage and end this scourge before we are forced to witness the ruin our indifference has allowed.