Eulogy to a Nazi
On March 9 2018 Oskar Groening passed away at 96. Most people would consider his passing as good news due to the legacy he left behind. Oskar Groening was most notably known as the “Accountant of Auschwitz”. He processed the personal belongings of over 300,000 Jews entering concentration camps during the holocaust. Oskar lived most of his life withholding this information from his friends and family; however, when the “holocaust denial” movement began to gain some traction, he came out as an eye witness to the horrific events. Despite this participation he claimed no guilt for the part he played and felt that he was only a small cog in the machine. Why does this matter? As we move to the future, we need to look to the past to understand Banality of Evil.
Fashion goes in cycles and it feels like being a Nazi is coming back in fashion. Being accused of being racist, or sexist has always been a part of political discourse, but things now are especially toxic. We see that in a big way in the United States with the election of Trump and the huge role of the white nationalist had in this election. But is also present in Canada. People take issue with Muslims immigrating to Canada. There is outrage over by political correctness. Huge left wing rallies break into fights with small groups of right wing protest. For the first time in decades it seems possible that a fascist party could get a foothold in Canada, even though the odds are incredibly low.
When you look at Oskar Groening life it easier to understand why it could happen. The man was by no measure a psychopath. He didn't express a passionate hatred for Jews. He never pulled the trigger on any of the killing. In fact, he asked to be transferred out of Auschwitz to a combat unit. My first instinct is always to point to circumstance. If he was born in Canada he would have never been involved in the Holocaust. But that doesn't explain the failure in his conscious. One of the key ideas that has come out of the study of the Holocaust is the Banality of Evil. This is the idea that being is evil doesn't have to be active, it can just be someone willing to stand by while evil actions happen.
Now I don't want to overstate this point. I think Canada is an incredible country. While we certainly not perfect, I do believe that that good thing outweigh the bad things. My fear is not that we will be a nation of killers. My fear is that Canada might end up being a nation of bystanders. An excellent example of this is Canada’s stance on peacekeeping. Canada’s role in peacekeeping missions decline under Harper and now Trudeau is continue is continuing this trend. It's definitely a difficult problem to consider and I can't offer an solution here. But if we are serious about living in an enlightened society, instead of descending into savagery, we do need to think about these lessons seriously.