Let’s Learn From Our Past
I recently listened to the book “The Happiest Man on Earth” by Eddie Jaku. Jaku was a young Jewish boy who grew up in Germany. His father was a kind man who gave generously to others, and was passionate about the power of education. As I listened to this powerful story I couldn’t help but see parallels in our culture today where people can allow politics, religion and fear to strip away their kindness and humanity. During World War II it was Jews, Communist, the disabled, the poor and the homosexual that were rounded up and put into death camps. Many of these people were wealthy doctors, scientists, jewelers, and contributing members to society. However, Adolf Hitler implanted the idea in Germans minds that the Jews were the cause of their suffering. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica:
“Even before the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they had made no secret of their anti-Semitism. As early as 1919 Adolf Hitler had written, ‘Rational anti-Semitism, however, must lead to systematic legal opposition.…Its final objective must unswervingly be the removal of the Jews altogether.’ In Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”; 1925–27), Hitler further developed the idea of the Jews as an evil race struggling for world domination. Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in religious anti-Semitism and enhanced by political anti-Semitism. To this the Nazis added a further dimension: racial anti-Semitism. Nazi racial ideologycharacterized the Jews as Untermenschen (German: “subhumans”). The Nazis portrayed the Jews as a race and not as a religious group. Religious anti-Semitism could be resolved by conversion, political anti-Semitism by expulsion. Ultimately, the logic of Nazi racial anti-Semitism led to annihilation.” (Brittanica)
Hitler’s idea that the German race was superior to Jews led to the destruction of millions of human beings. Let that sink in and consider why this happened? It didn’t happen overnight, over time Hitler used the Drama Triangle to manipulate Nazi Germans into believing that they were victims, the Jews were the villains, and he was the hero. What I often forget is that to be a Nazi was nothing more than a political affiliation that grew in popularity.
“The Nazi Party, officially the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP), was a far-right political party in Germany active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of Nazism. Its precursor, the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; DAP), existed from 1919 to 1920. The Nazi Party emerged from the German nationalist, racist and populist Freikorps paramilitary culture, which fought against the communist uprisings in post-World War I Germany. The party was created to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch nationalism. Initially, Nazi political strategy focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric. This was later downplayed to gain the support of business leaders, and in the 1930s the party’s main focus shifted to antisemitic and anti-Marxist themes.” (Wikipedia) To read more on the Nazi Party and it’s rise to power check out this fascinating read.
In his book, Jaku retells some of the atrocities that he witnessed and endured during his time in various death camps. The type of treatment of human beings, the level of cruelty inflicted on people, beyond heartbreaking.
During World War II there were a number of propaganda posters that were created to that conveyed the ideas that others were subhuman or monsters and that Adolf Hitler was the answer to bringing back the economy.
“In this beautiful and moving talk, the self proclaimed “happiest man on earth”, Eddie Jaku shares his story of love and survival at TEDxSydney 2019. Eddie Jaku was a Jew living in Germany at the outbreak and throughout the duration of World War II. His story of survival spans 12 years, from Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 until liberation in 1945. He saw death every day throughout WWII, and because he survived, he made a vow to himself to smile every day.
Eddie Jaku OAM, born Abraham Jakubowicz in Germany in 1920. His family considered themselves German, first, Jewish second. On 9 November 1938, the night immortalised as Kristallnacht, Eddie returned home from boarding school to an empty house. At dawn Nazi soldiers burst in, Eddie was beaten and taken to Buchenwald.” (YouTube)
Respecting Each Other and Our Differences
I recently posted something online that was meant to educate others about the treatment of minorities. One of the comments was, “Why do you keep posting stuff like this, to convince others or to convince yourself?” This response wasn’t from a random person, but an acquaintance. I was taken aback, I honestly didn’t know how to respond because I thought my use of video and explanation was obvious – I was hear to enlighten and inform. To bring further understanding and illumination to something that might only be seen from one point of view.
The information I posted was helpful for me and allowed me to get another perspective on a controversial topic. That is what I like to do when I don’t understand something, or I feel like I’m being misunderstood. I like to get more information from various sides. (Only getting information that supports my side of the argument is nothing more than confirmation bias.)
In the book “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Patterson talks about the importance of keeping the dialogue going. When we are open to new data it keeps us moving forward instead of retreating to “Silence or Violence.”
For me, there are no “Closed Subjects”. I am not 100% confident that I know everything when it comes to politics, religion, science, or anything for that matter. Experience and perspective are a necessary filter for data and while I see the sky as blue, someone else may have different eyes and see that same color as green. Does that mean that the sky isn’t blue for me? No, but it does mean that my reality and my perspective is not the only one that exists. And I can learn to appreciate that others feel, experience and see things differently from me, and that doesn’t make it “wrong”, it just makes it “different”, and I like things that are different.
Key Take-Aways from this Powerful Book:
- How quickly people can turn on each other when they feel they are being victimized.
- Education is a powerful tool that helped Eddie Jaku multiple times in Nazi death camps giving him access to opportunities that others didn’t have and kept him alive
- People thrive when they are around people
- Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone
- Love conquers all
- “Shared sorrow is half sorrow, shared pleasure is double pleasure” – Eddie Jaku
This book is a compelling reminder that humans need to be kind to each other despite our differences, to love others, to contribute to the world around you by teaching others, and finally, to bring happiness to the world by giving happiness to others.
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