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Monthly Archives: February 2015

A man sits in a courtroom on the witness stand. On trial, sitting metres away, is Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS office responsible for organising the mass deportation and extermination of Jews in what became known as the “the Final Solution” in World War II. The man, a witness by the name of Michael Podchlebnik, one of only two survivors of the Chelmo death camp, explains in a very matter of fact way how during the course of his job unloading bodies from “gas trucks” he came across the remains of his wife and two children. Desolate, he lay down next to his wife and pleaded to be shot. He was told he would not be shot yet – but would have to continue working as he was still strong enough to carry bodies.

Eichmann sits listening to Michael Podchlebnik and 111 other eye witnesses who tell stories of such unbelievable horror that you couldn’t believe they were possible; watching footage of mountains of skeleton corpses being buried by liberating forces he is completely impassive.

Eichmann went to his grave without showing any remorse. He was quoted at the end of the war as saying, “I will leap into my grave laughing because of the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”

We feel horror at his utter contempt for his victims. We feel a sense of disbelief that one human could orchestrate such excruciating cruelty on millions of individuals and feel a sense of satisfaction at his actions. Yet his lack of remorse and impassivity in some strange way gives us comfort as we tell ourselves he is nothing like us.

At the close of the trial the following statement was made, “For each of us who has ever felt that God created us better than any other human being has stood on the threshold where Eichmann once stood. And each of us who allowed the shape of another person’s nose or the colour of their skin, or the manner in which they worship their God to poison our feeling toward them, have known the loss of reason that led Eichmann to his madness. For this is how it all began for those who did these things.”

I find that idea of a threshold challenging. It seems to me that one of the things that drive people towards or over that threshold is pride. Pride emerges as we make the perception we have of ourselves the yardstick by which we form our opinions of other people. Feeling superior and having the need to receive appreciation and acknowledgement of our superiority, we compare ourselves with others and find them wanting. It is so ugly. I heard pride recently described as the “carbon monoxide of sin;” that is to say, it’s something which seeps into our character and thought patterns without us even realising. Which makes me think – Eichmann probably didn’t start off as any different to anyone else. He wasn’t born with a virulent hatred of Jewish people – the carbon monoxide of pride in who he felt he was must have poisoned his mind gradually over time, poisoned his feelings towards a whole race of people.

Last year the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, stated that “any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Jewish people suddenly moved in next door.” Spot the deliberate typo – it’s Romanians not Jews that make Mr Farage feel concerned. Are you just the slightest bit uncomfortable about that statement? The reason you feel uncomfortable is likely because you know what happened in history when those kinds of sentiments were played on by the Nazis.

I’m not calling Mr Farage a Nazi. Or any UKIP supporter. But I do believe that Mr Farage, by saying those things is not just standing at the threshold where Eichmann began – but is peering over the doorway and into the house. He hasn’t gone racing in and set up home as we see IS doing in Syria and Iraq, but he is still saying that his concerns about living next door to a person are based on their ethnicity – not on their actions. Whilst I completely support anybody’s right to be concerned about being part of the European Union from a political and economic perspective, I think we’ve got to be careful that politicians aren’t just using those concerns as a fig leaf for an inherent belief that being British makes us superior to other races. We want to be getting as far away from that threshold as possible – not pushing toes across it.

We need to be vigilant, aware that our pride will always make us vulnerable to crossing the threshold – not just with other races but anybody who is different to us, who has a different way of thinking or doing life.

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