I read this article online today.  It’s about this really old guy who is being charged with 29,000 counts of accessory to murder because he was a Nazi guard.  He is, of course, denying that he is guilty.  His story is that he was in the Russian army and captured by the Germans.

Now, the Holocaust was an atrocity.  There is absolutely no way around that and in fact, atrocity is a weak term.  So what I am about to say is in no way a defense of anything that happened there and being from Texas I obviously believe that wrong should be punished.  But the article concerned me in a few ways, the first being the guy’s age.  He is 88.  I am pretty sure that if you are convicted of Nazi war crimes, you get executed.  Especially if you’re convicted of 29,000 of them.  There is something very disturbing in the idea of an 88-year-old man being executed.  The second issue is the absolute glee with which some people hailed the announcement; basically, “Yippee!!  I hope they kill the old guy ASAP!”  This guy could have done some truly terrible things but that is no reason to celebrate that he may die a bit sooner than nature intended.  There has already been one grave error regarding this man’s identity and his involvement in Nazi crimes and in America, where he currently resides and is a citizen, you are innocent until PROVEN guilty.  Assuming he is extradited the trial will take place in Germany and I believe (hope) they have a similar policy with justice.

And the glee – well, it just seems so self-righteous.  Like I said, “atrocity” doesn’t even begin to cover what the Jewish people suffered during that time, but on the other hand it is extremely easy to look back on the Holocaust with a horror that people allowed such things to happen.  I believe that horror is right, but a closer look reveals that not all “Nazis” were on board with Nazi policies like eliminating certain people groups and torturing undesirables.  Part of the genius of Hitler’s plan (Note: “diabolical” or “evil” genius, of course; you can’t deny the man had a certain skill for acquiring power) was frightening dissenters into silence and acquiescence.  People will stoop to levels they never dreamed in order to protect their families.

Like I said, I’m not defending anyone’s choices to participate in Nazi crimes.  It is, however, very easy to say that people should “just” have not given in.  “Giving in” may wear a very different name when your husband/wife’s and children’s lives are at stake; suddenly it may look a lot more like protecting your family than selling your soul.  I think it’s wise to consider, before making a judgment call, that most of us have never faced the sort of choices that a lot of people had to face then – and also consider that a long life of soul-tormenting regret may be a far worse punishment than a human court could dole out.  C.S. Lewis has an interesting theory that hell is actually in you, something that grows over your lifetime and continues to grow throughout eternity, and if that were true…well, maybe we shouldn’t be so elated over the capture of an old man in Cleveland.

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