April 08, 2005

Opinions About Guilt 

Some people contend that Europeans in general still feel guilty for the Holocaust, and thus they tend to see the Jews as bad guys (especially towards the Palestinians) because that would ease their guilt - it's not so bad to hate bad guys, is it?

Maybe that is the situation for someone, it is possible, but myself, I don't feel any guilt whatsoever for decisions taken by other people long before I was born. I think that kind of guilt is an absolute waste of time. Likewise, I do not fell guilty in the slightest for colonialism and such. Also, I cannot understand why I should feel sorry because my grandparents did not revolt against Nazism/Fascism (they were not supporters, either).

What the Jews, individually and as a community, do or do not is more or less my last concern. I think that Israel has any right to exist as an indipendent and sovereign state, in the form that her citizens prefer (yes, her citizens; not the Arabs or the UN, not even the USA). Who denies these rights is anti-Jewish, there is little doubt about it. However, they may be anti-Jewish to a lower degree than the Nazis and some Muslims who actively want to exterminate Jews.

To those who think that the Europeans should collectively atone for the Holocaust and their past sins, I reply that they won't get anything like that from me. I am not guilty, I do not feel guilty - take it or leave it.

I'm also a bit tired with all this Holocaust "memory". No, I do not think we should just happily forget about it. But the whole point of studying history is learning lessons, not remembering for memory's sake. These days, the Holocaust memorials are mostly vacuous and superficial - it seems that quite a few still remember, but only a minority truly learnt lessons. And the lesson of those horrific facts is that evil must be confronted and nipped in bud. It can take a war and yes, it's not pretty. But letting evil grow to its full size is much worse for everyone.

I'm sorry
For something I didn't do
Lynched somebody
But I don't know who
You blame me for slavery
A hundred years before I was born

Guilty of being white

I'm a convict
Of a racist crime
I've only served
19 years of my time

Guilty of being white

Minor Threat


Elie Wiesel and many others did not make explicit the purpose of memory. Like this quote:

"An immoral society betrays humanity because it betrays the basis for humanity, which is memory. An immoral society deals with memory as some politicians deal with politics. A moral society is committed to memory: I believe in memory. The Greek word alethia means Truth, Things that cannot be forgotten. I believe in those things that cannot be forgotten and because of that so much in my work deals with memory... What do all my books have in common? A commitment to memory. What is opposite of memory? Alzheimer's."
From "Building a Moral Society", Chamberlin Lecture at Lewis & Clark College (1995)

The purpose of remembering the Holocaust is accomplished so effectively by the mere process of learning about it, that most people take for granted that it is memory for memory's sake. It is not. To learn of the Holocaust is to have a permanent seed of knowledge of absolute evil. The most momentary acquaintance with it will cast a filter on one's mind to refine it so that no matter how muddled one becomes, one still can reflect that evil did and does exist.

Guilt isn't hereditary, but neither is the knowledge that will prevent another slide into monstrous barbarism. I suspect that those who think they feel "guilt" over the actions of now-dead fellow men, are actually experiencing a dissonance between moral relativism and the irrefutable knowledge that shatters it all to hell.

"How are we to reconcile our supreme duty towards memory with the need to forget that is essential to life? No generation has had to confront this paradox with such urgency. The survivors wanted to communicate everything to the living: the victim's solitude and sorrow, the tears of mothers driven to madness, the prayers of the doomed beneath a fiery sky." Elie Wiesel

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