A few days ago, we toured the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and even though I have been aware of the terrible events of that time almost all of my life, nothing ever brought home the sheer immensity of the horror like that visit did.
As we saw one exhibit after another of the depravity that the Nazis showed towards not only the Jewish people, but also toward gypsies, the mentally and physically challenged, Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others, one thought continually occupied my mind – why didn’t they fight back?
At least six million human beings perished to satisfy Adolf Hitler’s crazed bloodlust. Except for a few isolated incidents where the doomed fought back, most seemed to quietly allow themselves to be transported to the Nazi death camps, like lambs to the slaughter. Why?
Please don’t misunderstand, I am not condemning the actions of those who were the victims of the Holocaust in any way. Walking through that museum, I had tears in my eyes and my heart ached. But I just do not understand how anybody could just stand there and wait their turn. Was it apathy? Ignorance? Cowardice? An “It can’t happen to me” mentality? I don’t know, and I don’t understand.
There were a few who fought back. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, Jewish resistance fighters armed with a few guns and makeshift weapons such as gasoline bombs, pitchforks, and rocks attacked the German soldiers who attempted to move the ghetto’s residents to the notorious Treblinka death camp.
For nearly a month, the Jews held out against the overwhelming numbers of well armed Nazi troops, and though they were eventually crushed, they bought another month of life for many of their people, and they made the Nazis pay a very heavy price.
Some will argue that the uprising didn’t accomplish anything, because the Nazis won, and still exterminated the Warsaw Jews. But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the Jews, the gypsies, the Socialists and all of the other victims of the Holocaust would have resisted. Would the course of history have been changed?
I knew an old Jewish man who wore the tattoo of a concentration camp survivor on his arm, and he told me that his parents, sister, and brothers had all died at the hands of the Nazis. I asked him the same question back then – why hadn’t they resisted? He said that he was only 12 years old when they came for his family, and that his older brother had wanted to fight back, but that their father said “No, if we do that, it will only make things worse. It’s too big a problem for any one person to fight. If we cooperate and just try to get along, who knows, we may have a chance.”
Then I look at what’s happening in our own country. How many of us complain about the direction our nation has gone, but seem to have that same apathy? How many think that our problems are too big to change? How many of us think that if we just let things happen around us, if we just go with the flow, maybe things will get better?