02 January 2010

Yay History!

Last night I was watching the military channel and saw a really cool documentary on Operation Valkyrie.  I haven't seen the movie with Tom Cruise yet, but I've wanted to since I first saw the preview.  I learned that not everyone in the military knew about the mass killings of Gypsies and Jews.  Some of the officers including, Colonel Count Klaus Schenck von Stauffenberg, joined the conspiracy after learning about the mass killings.  And the documentary also went over if their plan went according to plan Hitler most likely would have been killed.  But there were some hick-ups in the plan which only resulted in him being injured.  And he told his wife to denounce him if he failed because one of them had to survive to raise their kids.

I've always believed that Germany in World War II is difficult to categorize.  You can't group everyone as Nazis or Jew / Gypsy haters.  That's just what we're shown.  There were people in Germany that weren't like that.  Germany was basically blamed for World War I in the Treaty of Versailles, even though the Germans did not start the war.  The people were broke and hopeless.  A strong person rose into government and gave them hope again along with a scapegoat.  Discrimination started slow and I always think of it as a mob mentality, which is why most (I'm not going to say all) went along with the discrimination.  Then the discrimination turned to genocide but I don't think most of the German people knew about the genocide.  People that had concentration camps basically in their backyard didn't know what was happening behind those fences.  And I think they didn't want to know what was going on in their backyards.  I believe the average people lived in fear.  The SS was not your friend.  If you spoke out you disappeared.

You know, I've always wished that history classes would talk more about those people that resisted and stood up when they saw a wrong or injustice.  We get it to an extent, like learning about the Civil Rights movement.  But why not other times?  I wished I learned about Operation Valkyrie in school.  I wish I was taught about the French resistance.  Anyone hear about the underground in Poland?  What about how the Danish refused to collaborate with the Nazis and smuggled out their Jews to safety in Sweden!  Why can't we include a history lesson on people that stood up to injustices even if meant they were going to die if they failed?

At the Halocaust Museum in DC I saw and read so much.  And of course cried as I walked through, it was a very moving experience.  You know, I also always wondered why the people didn't fight back.  Why did they go to the concentration camps willingly?  Walking through the museum helped me understand their submissive thinking a little bit.  And I found out there were uprisings, and usually it was the young ones (late teens and early twentys) were the ones that would organize the fight against injustices at the camps.  They weren't successful but they gave quite a fight.  I saw photos and read stories about how German people hid jewish kids.  For example, a family was raising a little Jewish boy as a Christain girl to save his life.  And this is why you shouldn't generalize, not all Germans were haters.

I also learned that the British trained 32 people in Palestine to parachute into Germany.  I had no clue!  Along with their jobs, these people, risking their own lives, tried to help organize resistance groups.  One story really moved me, it was the story of the poet Hannah Senesh.  She was caught and executed, but the last poem she wrote is on display:

"I could have been twenty-three next July
I gambled on what mattered most
The dice were cast.  I lost."

My Grandpa helped liberate a concentration camp and he said that their troops were on food rations, but they would ration their rations to feed the people they freed.

I'm still floored when some people argue that the halocaust is made up.  My grandpa was a witness to these camps and horrible crimes.  And even General Dwight D. Eisenhower was a witness:

"The things I saw beggar description... The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty, and bestiality were so overpowering... I made this visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda."

I didn't talk about my visit to the Holocaust Museum when I discussed my Washington DC trip because I wanted to do a separate post on it.  And last night's documentary moved me to finally write it.  You're most likely going to cry, but it's worth a visit.


Ivon said...

Your mother and I visited the Dachau concentration camp near Munich. Your grandfather help liberate this camp. You mentioned that the German people did not know what was going on, and I agree that they did not want to know. Just5 remember as the jews were taken away, other Germans moved into their homes. I heard a documentary of a liberated Jew returning to her home and was told, "why don't you go back were you came from." They may not of known, but enjoyed the spoils of the holocaust. Just my thoughts. I loved your write up, and I understand the tears. Your mother and I teared up too. On our last trip to Budapest and seeing the shoe memorial, was emotionally hard for me, especially the little shoes.

Kim Despain said...

I've also visited a concentration camp and I can hardly think of it today without tearing up. Unimagineable!! But I am so glad that even in such a terrible time, there were good people who were willing to risk everything to help. Now I also want to rent Valkrie but first I better stock up on tissues!

Sherri Jorgensen said...

I love this post, because it is so important for everyone to realize that anyone can end up in a big mess like this if they let the powerful have full reign.
I read "Yearning for a living God" which is a great book to read, but also taught me just what you are saying. The people DID NOT KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON! They thought Hitler was so GReat, and NOT because he was killing millions...but because he was rescuing them...they thought!
Another good read (I have not read it, but my mom knows the author and I am going to buy it.) is..."Resistance on a bicycle" and it is a story of the Dutch people as they risked it all to save the Jews.
Why do we not learn this is school...because "they dont want us to". There are secret combinations at work right here in America. If they can get us to were we are completely broken and need to be rescued then they can do the exact same thing here.
The man who wrote resistance on a bicycle says that Obama is taking the exact same steps that Hitler did.
Scary stuff!
Thanks for your story and concern!

Becca and fam said...

Watch the movie, it is good. Very moving post Steph. Have you seen "The Boy in the Stiped Pajamas"? Rent that too, seriously sad.

Nancy said...

When we were in Hungary on our tour this summer, our tour guide was a woman who had grown up with Communism. She said if you said anything bad about the government, and someone didn't like you they would turn you in. She said whole families would disappear in the night. It is very scary and what's worse are people believing they are being "rescued" right now!!!

laura said...

Great post Steph. I was, I think 8, when we went to a concentration camp and I have images burned in my brain. So sad, but I'm so glad they have these camps and memorials still out there for people to see, so we will never forget.
It's so scary to think of anything like that happening again. Hopefully it never will.
I want to see that movie also and I love hearing stories of the resistance and get so proud when I find stories of our ancestors who were part of it. We come from good stock!

5Youngers said...

This was a wonderful post. I have always thought the same things. I wished we had more Anne Frank stories and the people who helped her out there. I have always felt a pull towards World War II. Its one of those monumental life changing wars that has always drawn me in. I watched Valkyrie and it was very informative.