How can humans be so evil?

ImageReading a review in Saturday’s Age of a new memoir about Joesph Roth, a Jewish German writer whose life was destroyed by Nazism(1), I was struck by the strength of the ripple (or earthquake really) of man’s evil deeds against other men. Mention of Ernst Toller and the Hapsburg Empire caught my eye & my imagination when reading the article. What a powerful sentence….”The corollary of Hitler’s book burnings was a bonfire of the talents, the flames of which lit a succession of melancholy images.”… What wicked destruction of art, writing & people’s lives, the effects of which last forever (the loss of culture) & decades (many generations of traumatised families). Just today there was an obituary in ‘The Age’ newspaper (2) to yet another refugee from Hitler’s Europe who found her way to Australia & managed to build a quite different life out here. In the sad final sentence of the review of Roth’s memoir, Roth is quoted in 1933 as writing ‘We all over-estimated the world, even me, an absolute pessimist’.

Here was I, in Australia in 2012, being struck for probably the sixth or seventh time this year by the devastation caused by World War 2. Possibly I am at an age where reflections on life become more relevant & more likely, with slightly more leisure time on my hands. Going to Auschwitz and Poland was the start. Reading ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (3)and ‘All that I Am’ (4) was a natural progression. Choosing to do a CAE course on the Hapsburg dynasty seemed like a natural fit for someone curious about Central Europe’s history. The film ‘Lore’ (6) confirmed the absolute ugliness of WW2 Germany where a father could choose to desert his family in favour of duty as the head of an internment camp and where the children truly believe in the inferiority of Jews, even when someone they think is Jewish saves them as they trek across Germany in search of their grandparents’ home. What madness & evil is the human race capable of & why do we repeat it even as we recognise the errors of the past?

Even my bookclub read at the moment (‘The Constant Gardener’ by John Le Carre(5)) is depressing as pharmaceutical and colonial powers experiment with thousands of lesser beings in Africa, using them as guinea pigs for drug trials.

It all leaves me pondering at the randomness of our fate – me safe here for no apparent reason & with no tangible means to stem the ways of the world at large….the only useful path seems to be to not give up on our environment, on the power of education, on faith in the majority of my fellow humans. I hope we are not too little, too late.









Filed under Books Read, Ideas Discussed, Sights seen

2 responses to “How can humans be so evil?

  1. Virginia Mitchell

    And of course there is Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper which illustrates your idea of the widespread effect of actions in one place at one time.

    • Yes, I remembered his wonderful book after I had posted…it is all part of a huge shadow or net cast by the atrocities of WW2, even 67 years later. Naturally some of what has happened since is inspirational…perhaps we should focus more on that aspect. I also read ‘Day after Night’ by Anita Diamant (The Red Tent) which dealt with Jews after WW2 who sought a new life in Israel.

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