As another nonagenarian is rolled into a German courtroom to stand trial for working in a Nazi-concentration camp, playing a part in mass murder, crimes against humanity, I asked myself the above question.
Actually, the first answer that came to mind was, Really well, thank you. As the GP who asks his patient if he smokes who then answers, Yes, please.
It’s all sweet to read that he was sorry for what he did but he reportedly also said that he’s innocent, which kind of undoes the former avowal.
He was a member of the prestigious SS-Skull Battalion. But he now sees himself as just a peg in the large murder machine. This doesn’t sound real.
I’m really not so interested in having him trialed and convicted. (And not because he’s so old. That would rather tell me, he deserves a break from the good life and return to reality and justice.) For me, it’s more important that Germany keeps its commitment to be a force against fascism and an eternal close warm and dependable ally and friend to the Jews.
I’m even less interested to hear his apologetics. Save them for your Maker.
I would like to know if he could answer anything truthfully that will help young people to see the folly of his evil collaboration. Questions like:
How were you able to not commit suicide during the war years? You seem to think that in the camp you were unable to change anything. Are you aware of wrong choices you made, against better judgment, that brought you to a point where you had become a powerless executor?
Was it a conviction that Jews were Untermenschen, not worthy of life, that helped you participate? Or was it hatred? Did your hatred only come from your Nazi-training or were you familiar with hatred for Jews from your first years in life? Do you remember ever questioning this bigotry? Do you recall ever having doubts, pity or guilt against what this training taught you to feel, even if you didn’t act on such reservations?
No person’s life is without hardship or setback. Did difficult moments in your life ever bring up these memories of horror you had seen? How did you deal with them? Did you have nightmares? Could you tell anyone?
Germany as a country and nation has made quite a departure from the Nazi-era. There is much commemoration of the Holocaust, especially end of April and beginning of May. Also, solidarity with Israel is quite prominent. Did all of that please you in any way? Did it shock you, time and again? Could you say that your war history has ruined your life? How? Did you ever fantasize about the victims forgiving you?
Did you compare yourself a lot? Compare to worse Nazi-murderers to calm your conscience? Compare yourself to the Jewish victims being jealous of the attention and recognition that they were getting? Did you often feel that you were a genuine victim though you were a perpetrator?
You must feel defensive and scared now you’re brought to court for this. You probably don’t want to be seen as a monster and not be remembered only as accessory to crimes against humanity. But, are you also relieved to not have to take this all silently into the grave? That hiding is over?
What would it mean to you if we lived in a world without guilt for the past with only responsibility for what we do now and for the future? Do you have a message of hope from your war experience for young people? Any words of guidance on how not to make mistakes you made?