MIDN 1/C Russell Adam Dallas
I initially approached the American Service Academies Program as an academic endeavor, a chance to learn about a subject in which I was interested. But in the end, it became a self examination. I ended up learning just as much about myself and the way I think and perceive things as I did about the Holocaust and Jewish history and heritage. There were so many tough questions asked, questions that do not even have answers, they just sit there under your skin, always at the back of your mind. How many hours did we sit around and discuss the culpability of the collaborators, or the blame that should be placed on those who did nothing to stop the atrocities they witnessed? How long did we debate how we should feel about those who lost the will to live? And how hard did we try to find an answer to what our responsibilities are, both as military officers and as human beings, when we are faced with another instance of genocide or mass murder? In the end, all we could do was conclude that the outside factors would play an incalculable role in every decision we would be asked to make..., rendering our enterprises to anticipate the situation and define the correct response irrelevant.
Perception dictates everything. During this trip, every perception I had about human beings was challenged. I choose to believe that all humans are good by nature; that they are not born with hate in their hearts. And then I was forced to admit that normal Europeans murdered upwards of six million Jews in a matter of years. These people came from cities, towns, and villages that were the norm for that time. They lived with Jews in varying degrees of integration, and many of them interacted with Jews in matters of business on an almost daily basis. Sure anti-Semitism existed but it wasn't like it is today in the Middle East, where many Arabs grow up hating Jews almost from birth. But somewhere along the way, something changed. The combination of circumstances, including the virulent propaganda they were subjected to, conspired to bring their deep-rooted underlying anti-Semitism to the surface and allowed them to channel it into acts of mass murder. This is my attempt at a rational explanation, to sooth my own obsessive need for answers. But I sincerely believe the real answer is that there is no way to rationally explain how the Holocaust was allowed to happen. The Nazis attempted to justify their actions, claiming that the Jews were culture destroyers, intent on world domination. They pointed to the Jews' adoption of capitalism as a means to inspire the communist revolutions, which would enable them to seize control of and dominate the world. They pointed out that National Socialist Germans only wanted to protect their homeland from any threat, and that at this point the threat happened to be the Jews. Thus, they reasoned, Jews and Germans fundamentally could not coexist. By their logic, it was kill or be killed, and they chose to kill. When we visited the site of the World Trade Center and the memorials there, I took several pictures. One of them was a reflection, left by another visitor. The words will forever be ingrained in my mind: "No man's ideology is worth another man's life." That simple sentence is the only rebuttal necessary to the Nazi's attempts to justify their actions. Human life is worth far more than loyalty to any ideology.
I believe that the fifteen of us who undertook this journey have learned the lessons, have been deeply and personally moved by the lessons, and will forever remember and apply those lessons in our lives. More than ever before, I understand that people are different. That my perception and understanding of an issue is just that, mine. Nothing about me distinguishes my beliefs and perceptions from my neighbors. As an extension of that, I now sincerely believe that the world is big enough to accommodate countless ideas and beliefs, and that it is possible, with a little patience and effort, to live in peace with neighbors who believe differently than you do. True communities then are not a function of the similarities of their members; rather they are a function of the love and acceptance practiced by their members on a daily basis. This is the most important lesson of the Holocaust: no difference is ever irreconcilable.