It’s been years since I read Elie Wiesel’s book Night and one particular part of it still haunts me. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep it’s this part of the book that I think about.
It’s not his description of the atrocities committed on mankind in concentration camps that haunts me often.That’s so bad I must block it out. Though, now and then I can’t shake the thought about how families were sorted out at the gates never to see their loved ones again.
As frighteningly bad as that is, it’s still another part that haunts me. In the book, Weisel describes his life before Hitler.
It’s remarkably ordinary, but striking. It’s striking in that even though it was more than half a century ago, he made it sound so much like daily lives we lead rather than some historically distant account. You could easily imagine it being not much different that what we do each day.
Wiesel described how his ordinary life changed so slowly and gradually that the changes didn’t seem like changes at. It wasn’t like there was a sudden invasion and they were imprisoned.
At first, it was a far off happening. They discussed it around the dinner table like we might discuss what’s going on in Iran or Benghazi.
Word came in that Hitlers’ troops were coming closer. It’s okay. They’re going to protect us from Russia. It was difficult for them to tell who the bad guys were.
The troops came into town. They were nice and polite. They were there for their own good. Ah, we’ll put a fence around your part of town, but that’s okay. It’s to protect you.
We often hear this described as the Boiled Frog Syndrome. When his fellow townspeople questioned the motives or heard snippets of what was really happening, nobody wanted to believe it. They even defended Hitler. Ah…he’s not that bad.
One of the crazy guys from his town even narrowly escaped death at the hands of a firing squad in his travels, if I remember right. He came back and tried to warn his fellow townspeople. But, hey, he was the crazy guy. Who would listen to him?
The reason it haunts me is that at time I wonder if we are in a slowly boiling pot, but are too slow to realize it.
Maybe we’ll have a tough time telling the difference between good and bad, like Wiesel’s fellow townspeople did. It’s not as simple and sudden as it’s made out to be in the movies.
In real life, bad people can do good things, good people can do bad things, and sometimes good people can do bad things and never realize it.
I was reminded of this by a stark comment in Thomas Sowell’s column today:
Have you noticed how many of our enemies in other countries have been rooting for Obama? You or your children may yet have reason to recall that as a bitter memory of a warning sign ignored on election day in 2012.