Friday, September 23, 2011

Reflections on a Quote


I have been revising my plans during the past two weeks. I also went to a small store that specializes on talaveras or decorative ceramic tiles. Shamelessly, I copied on Yvonne’s idea of using tiles to make a unique design for my dining room table. As soon as I begin “production”, I will supply photos and depict the actual making of it.

This post is about a quote from Solzhenitsyn, the Russian philosopher writer who was imprisoned in the gulag, the Russian prison system, for 20 years. He wrote about it in “The Gulag Archipelago”. I will admit right here that I never read it for fear of being depressed at horrific descriptions of hate and evil.

What prompted me to reflect on this quote is a short story on how Howard Triest, a German Jew whose family had been sent to Auschwitz and killed, served as an interpreter to notorious Nazis about to appear for crimes committed. This was in preparation for the Nuremberg trials. Major Leon Goldensohn was charged with psychological evaluations of the prisoners to try to gain an insight in what may have turned these men into mass murderers. I would add monsters.

For those who might be interested, the Nazis were Hermann Goering, Luftwaffe Chief, Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s former deputy, Julius Streicher, Nazi propagandist, and former Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess, whose interview must have been very painful and difficult for Triest who had lost his parents in Auschwitz. Triest had been chosen as a non-threatening interpreter. He was tall, blond and blue eyed, and spoke flawless German. His appearance was such that the prisoners considered him a true Aryan. The fact that he was a Jew had been kept hidden from the prisoners. They had no hesitation in opening up and confiding in Triest.

The conclusions reached from the interviews were that “…no great insight was gained”, and that nothing had been found to “…indicate something that would make them the murderers they would become.” Triest even commented that Hoess didn’t look like someone who had killed 2 or 3 million people. A final quote after the interviews was, “In fact, they were all quite normal. Evil and extreme cruelty can go with normality.”

Reading this, I recalled Solzhenitsyn’s quote that I had copied to my book of important quotes. Here goes:

"If only there were evil people out there insidiously committing evil deeds and it was only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who among us is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?”

My heart freezes thinking that this is likely true… How can we truly know anyone? How can we truly know ourselves?


Tesaje said...

The banality of evil ...

His observation was borne out by the experiment done with college students that found just on an authority figure's say so, they were almost all willing to administer a killing electric shock to test subjects - so they thought. The students thought they were participating as the testers but in reality, the "subjects" were actors and there was no shock. It is frightening at how easily normal people can slip into true evil.

Unknown said...

We can accept that we have both good and evil within in and we can consciously choose to nurture one over the other. I consciously choose to nurture my good side. Kindness. That is my religion. Thanks for this.

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