Updated: Aug 24, 2022
We were in beautiful Mannheim, Germany, in early 2002. Johnny had a work assignment there…and for the first time in many years, I was free to go with him. While he was busy, I wandered around the city. It felt safe. The people were both friendly and kind. The food was amazing. The flowers burned with intensity. The city was laid out so logically that even I…known for my inability to find my way around…easily explored it both on foot and by streetcar.
And then one day, I asked myself the obvious question. What happened here during the war? And then in quick succession, I wondered, what happened to the Jews of Mannheim? That thought put quite a damper on my “vacation.” But being me, I couldn’t let it go. I had five weeks left in our visit. And during that time, I explored Mannheim as a researcher rather than a tourist…and that led to a particular train station and that led to a trip to Munich and then Dachau…and that led me back to Mannheim and more research…and that led us to an Easter weekend trip to Poland…and Auschwitz.
I guess I thought maybe none of that was real. Maybe I was naive or just stupid. However, what we saw and learned and experienced at Auschwitz put a kink in my soul. As we were leaving, I tried to explain my feelings to Johnny. But neither of us could understand them. I wasn’t born when all of that happened. I was neither Jewish or German. In fact, my only connection was that I was human…and I felt guilty. Horribly so. So guilty that I still dream of Auschwitz…to this day…and wake up with that sick defensive feeling of old sin.
At that time, I had to buy books written in other langages and have them translated. Today, many of those same narratives are online and easily found. It took seventeen years to write the book titled, “Vala’s Bed,” because most of what I learned about human nature was pretty hard to swallow. And honestly, while I still cry for the victims of the Holocaust, I cry just as much for the guilty. Perhaps because…to this day…I feel the weight of it whenever I see folks hating other folks...whenever there are mass shootings…whenever lies spread faster than the truth…whenever one kind of person is scared cruel of another kind of person.
I spent my day and evening working on a project. One with a deadline. Too exhausted to sleep, I scrolled through Netflix and found this documentary. Unlike the dozens of interviews with actual perpetrators I’d either read or watched over 20 years ago now, it explores the real question…why?
It’s not easy going...nothing of value is.