Saturday, 09 October 2010

Hidden Children of the Holocaust

This book is about the lower echelons of the Catholic clergy during the Nazi occupation of Belgium in World War II. While the higher levels kept quiet, the parish priests and nuns hid thousands of Jewish children and saved their lives.

Vromen undertook this research as a sociological study and the book reads somewhat like a thesis. She has interviewed one priest, a number of nuns, a number of hidden children and a couple of members of the secular resistance movement responsible for getting the children from their families to the institutions that hid them.

I am left feeling depressed and uplifted at the same time. Nazis and nuns are two of my greatest fascinations, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed this study. What I'm left with is a sense that armed resistance receives too much acclaim in comparison with other forms. The people who just did a few tiny things - carrying messages or providing food - were just as courageous as those who chose a more militant form of resistance. But what about all those others who chose not to resist, neither actively nor passively. Did they collaborate or embrace Nazi ideology? Did they merely think of themselves as neutral? Which begs the question, how can you remain neutral in the face of such inhuman behaviour? More interestingly, how would I have behaved? There's no way to know without finding myself in a position that I hope the world never sees again. I suspect, though, that as survivors die memory will fade and such horrors may again be committed. The extreme religious right of the United States and their vilification of Muslims give me cause for concern. The eternal conflict in the Middle East gives me cause for concern. Every continent shows some form of intolerance and oppression of humanity. I can only do what little I can to ensure that we do not forget.

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