Image by maxgiani via FlickrListening to the news about Haiti, and hearing the News Commentators talk about "the stench of death", revived a memory of what my Dad had said about his service in WW II. He had fought in the Battle of The Bulge, among other battles, and told us several times about how once you smell a decaying or burning body, you instantly know that it is human, and you never forget that smell. Dad was a very sensitive man, and you could see that even decades after-the-fact he was still disturbed by it.
There's a reason that I'm bringing up this unpleasant subject.
Over two decades ago, my husband was an Army Officer and we lived in Central Germany "off post" in a rented house among the German people.
While living there, we used to love to spend every week-end exploring German history from Castles to Concentration Camps. We're both History Buffs in a big way.
On a days' visit to Dachau, I was struck by the close proximity of the town of Dachau to the Concentration Camp. It is only three kilometers between the city's train station and the camp.
I clearly remember thinking as I looked over at the town... "Those people could see from their 3rd-story windows what was going on." Not only could they see, but they also surely could have smelled as well, and that thought was very unsettling.
As we went through the gates at the Concentration Camp, my oldest daughter said "Mommy I don't like this place." I'm sure that she picked up on our somber vibes.
Looking through the lens as an atheist now, I wonder about the mind-set of the average religious person living in Dachau at that time. Catholicism and Nazism had a complicated relationship, and nearly every person in the Nazi hierarchy had been or was a Catholic. Hitler himself was a Catholic (in spite of how Catholic's today denying it), although he also was anticlerical. I'm not saying that every single Catholic endorsed the Nazi Party, just that a large percentage ignored the atrocities.
I have a tremendous respect and awe for the courage that some average Germans had in WWII to save Jews by sheltering them or helping to secretly relocate them. Obviously these single acts of heroism show that a 'higher thinking' was able to transcend centuries of Antisemitism that had been spewed from every pulpit.
I had a German friend in my neighborhood there who was open-minded, and I guess I could describe her as an agnostic. She told me that her parents, grand-parents, etc., as far back as she could remember, sincerely believing that the Jews were "the Christ killers."
Had the Vatican spoken out so much more forcefully, and more often, would the result of the "final solution" been different? Me thinks that in their eyes, that would have meant acknowledging that just perhaps, they may have been wrong about the "Christ killers" package that they'd been delivering to Catholics for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Just how deep does the delusion, the self-brainwashing, and the hatred have to be when it takes precedence over the natural, in-born human compassion we all share ?
After our U.S. troops liberated Dachau, several of our soldiers were so horrified and repulsed by what they saw, the bodies piled high, the gas chambers and the walking corpses, that they opened fire on many of the guards there. Could you blame them ?
Our troops also went into the City of Dachau and rounded up the citizens and forced them to look at the horror inside the camp. I remember seeing pictures of the local men and women with wide-eyed "disbelief" on their faces.....then our troops forced the citizens to help clean up the camp---BRAVO !
At that point, I'm wondering just how many of them gave a sober, hard look at their belief and perhaps wondered just how one can believe such a doctrine of hate and at the same time be a loving human being.
Just as Christopher Hitchens says : "Religion Poisons Everything" ...............minds included.