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People Like Me

The thing that frightens me the most about the Nazi Era is that it involved people like me.  It isnít the concentration camp victims that Iím talking about; itís the Nazis themselves.

We donít like to think of ourselves that way; we like to imagine that the insanity of the Third Reich was an aberration, an odd exception in human history. Because the Nazis did monstrous things, we tend to think of them all as monsters and distance them from the rest of humankind. But they were people like me.

By and large, they loved their children; they worked hard, were brave and patriotic. Many went to church. The society that gave birth to Nazism was not a medieval throwback. No country was more scientifically advanced; no people better educated. They were patrons of the arts. The German Protestant Church was the most enlightened church in Europe. Thatís what frightens me: the people that did these barbaric things were not barbarians. They were cultured and enlightened. They were people like me.

Whatís so frightening about that is that it can happen again, that in spite of multiplied Holocaust Memorials, in spite of people crying, ďNever Again,Ē it can happen again. Indeed, it probably will happen again. Thatís the lesson of history. Our species is notorious for singling out scapegoats to purge from our ranks, whether itís the Jews of Warsaw or the Muslims of Sarajevo. It can always be justified by the mesmerizing demagogue.

I am a descendant of slaveholders. As far as I can tell from my family history, they were decent, loving people. How did such people justify so brutal an institution as slavery? I do not know. I only know that I, too, am capable of blindly rationalizing great evil. What amazes me about history is not all the bad things that bad people did; itís the bad things that ďgoodĒ people did, people like me.

Thatís why I fear Nazismóbecause itís not so far away. Itís always lurking, not just out there, but inside me, too. To believe that those who are different from me are less than human is not a thought that is foreign to our species. It is a thought that embraced in desperate times leads to death camps and ovens. 
It is a thought that can be embraced by people like me.

Robert Benn Vincent, Sr.

Remembering Kristallnacht at the Holocaust Memorial Park
Sunday, November 9, 2014, the 75th Anniversary of the Night of the Broken Class

And at the
Grace Presbyterian Church
Hosting the Annual
Holocaust Memorial Service
Under the sponsorship of
Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim and
The Central Louisiana Ministerial Association
Alexandria, Louisiana
Thursday, April 7, 1994