March 11, 2018, Israel
When we look back at history and we see the tragedies that unfolded we wonder why so many did nothing. We also wonder how a few were able to rise above the rest and become heroes.
We see those who watched the events unfold and remarkably remained remarkably calm. They adjusted to new realities and gradually saw their freedom and then their lives disappear. They saw it all happen and they did nothing. And it makes us wonder. And we stand in harsh judgment of them.
Then we see heroes. We see people who gave up everything to take up the cause. They dropped their daily lives, forgot about their jobs, even their own families, and went on a personal crusade to educate and warn the people. They sacrificed themselves. And we wonder why.
These days if one utters a negative thought, he is at once castigated for "being negative". As we say, Seldom is heard a discouraging word. Yet in bad times it is the negative person, the one who sees the worst, who is in fact the most positive and proactive.
If you truly believed tragedy was about to unfold upon yourself, your family and your community, surely you would act. What would be the point of going to work if your world were coming to an end?
The Holocaust offers many unique opportunities for study and insights into human behavior. It was a time like no other.
The vast majority of people, both victims and bystanders, did nothing. Why? Because they would not, could not, see the worst. More accurately they could not accept the worst. They were simply too optimistic to believe that a group of people were so evil as to actually want to destroy other human beings. It was inconceivable to them. They were positive people.
Later on the survivors, the witnesses, admitted it. The refrain was also the same, How could it be? Who could imagine such a thing? Their mind could not accept the truth.
There were others, such as Zeev Vladimir Jabotinsky in Poland, and Hillel Kook, a.k.a Peter Bergson who came to America, who accepted the worst. Once they accepted the worst they had no alternative but to take action. To give their entire lives to the cause.
Kook/Bergson, moved America like no one else, even though he was only a recent arrival. But he accepted the worst, he understood that there was no mistake: the Germans in fact had every intention of killing every last Jew in Europe and around the world. He fully accepted this very painful truth and he moved mountains. He finally managed to move the American government to create the War Refugee Board that ended up taking part in 200,000 Jews. That is no small accomplishment for one man in a foreign land.
The majority rationalize and remain inactive, the minority accept the bitter truth and do something about it.
The difference between those few who do something and those many who do nothing can be understood in this light, from this Holocaust lesson: Those who accept the worst understand that they must, must, do something. The rest rationalize that it is not so bad.
Now in our everyday life it is difficult to conduct this experiment. We can look at those who study self defense, or those who take out extra insurance, and compare and contrast them with those who do not. Most people will never be attacked. Most people who take out insurance will not need it, (that is how the insurance companies make a profit). So under normal circumstances it is difficult to see the cause and effect. It is difficult to see the wisdom of those who accept the worst.
The Holocaust, probably the worst period in all of human history, offers a rare glimpse, a "study" into human behavior where the consequences are clear and easy to measure. We can see that those who took the "normal" approach of rationalizing ended up...going through living hell and worse. They eventually experienced all levels of hell and beyond. But those who accepted the worst, who understood that we must face reality, took action, action that made a difference.
This was one of the few times in history where one group could say to the other, I told you so.
We look back and we judge. Students all over the world ask, Why didn't the Jews fight back? and other questions that stem from ignorance. But what are they doing now? Are they fighting back? Are they training in Krav Maga? Are they part of a community patrol groups? Are they in the forefront against hatred and bigotry?
What kind of person are you? One who accepts the worst, or the silent majority who rationalize and do nothing?
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