HISTORY: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
How evil triumphs with our apathy and complacency
, July 6, 2013
Ronald Reagan once said, “History will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.”
That happens far too often, and it is an indictment of us all. We in the comfortable West have allowed too many things to take place which never should have happened.
For example, far too many folks — Christians included — allowed the evil of human slavery to endure. Few took a stand against it, and those who did were greatly vilified and attacked by those supporting the status quo — and that included far too many Christians.
Indeed, plenty of slave-owners were Christians, and they railed against Christian abolitionists such as William Wilberforce. He was hated and despised not just by non-believers but by believers as well. He was even known as “the most hated man in all of England”.
However, he was also known as “the conscience of a nation”.
We need many more such champions. They are in the clear minority. The majority prefer to just sit back, comfortable and relaxed, unwilling to rock the boat. Whatever evil may be happening all around them, they will not speak up. They will not resist. They will not do that which is right.
History is full of such apathetic and callous hordes. At the very time when men and women should have stood up and raised their voices, they stayed silent. As a result, they permitted horrific evil to occur. They in their silence are just as guilty as those who did the actual evil.
Consider Germany in the 1930s and ’40s. Most Germans said nothing and did nothing about the developing cloud of Nazism. All too many supported it. And most Christians also kept silent. Those believers who stood against the evil of Hitler were in the clear minority.
Recent articles, first in the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, then in the British daily newspaper The Independent, give us a small glimpse into the lives of ordinary Germans during the rise and reign of Nazism.
They tell of one young German woman, Brigitte Eicke, who simply seemed to be oblivious to what was going on around her. As evidenced by her diary entries, she either did not know or did not care. And her story could be multiplied millions of times over.
Here is the opening part of the report in The Independent: “Her neighbourhood was bombed by the allies, the Jews around the corner were being sent to Auschwitz and the Red Army had launched its final assault on Berlin. But Brigitte Eicke, a teenaged German, was unconcerned. She was far more interested in going to the cinema, dancing to gramophone records and trying to cope with a ‘disastrous’ perm.
“The 15-year-old Berlin schoolgirl, nicknamed ‘Gitti’, started keeping a diary in December 1942, when the German capital was being bombed nightly and the Nazi Holocaust was killing thousands. As a trainee secretary, she recorded her daily experiences to improve her stenography skills.
“Now, some 70 years on, her diary has been published for the first time in Germany and is being hailed as remarkable documentary evidence of how millions of Germans relied on collective indifference to endure the horrors of war and ignore the brutality of the Nazi rule.
“Entitled Backfisch im Bombenkrieg (‘Teenaged Girl in Bombing War’), Eicke’s diary is an often banal account of everyday life. She started writing it just months before Anne Frank began her diary, but the contents could hardly be more different. ‘Gitti is merely a cog in the wheels that kept Nazi Germany turning,’ is how Der Spiegel magazine [June 12, 2013] described the author last week. ‘She is a young woman skilled in the art of blotting out ugliness, willing to believe what she’s told and, ultimately, one of the lucky ones,’ it added.
“Here is Gitti’s entry for 1 February 1944: ‘The school had been bombed when we arrived this morning. Waltraud, Melitta and I went back to Gisela’s and danced to gramophone records.’ In another raid on her Berlin neighbourhood in March 1943, two people are killed, 34 are injured and more than 1,000 are made homeless. Gitti writes: ‘It took place in the middle of the night, horrible, I was half asleep’.
“In November 1944, Hitler is trying to cripple the advances made after the D-Day landings by planning an offensive in the Ardennes, but Gitti — by now a member of the Nazi Party — is more concerned about her hairdo. She writes that she has just been given a ‘disastrous’ perm by her hairdresser and is worried about going to work ‘looking a fright’.
“Then on 2 March 1945, while Hitler’s troops are trying to halt the Red Army’s advance just 60 miles east of Berlin, Gitti, now 18, goes to the cinema. She writes: ‘Margot and I went to the Admiralspalast cinema to see Meine Herren Söhne [‘Gentlemen Sons’]. It was such a lovely film, but there was a power cut in the middle. How annoying!’” (The Independent, June 16, 2013).
Okay, that was then, and this is now. So how does that relate to today? The parallels are easily found. There is plenty of seismic evil occurring all around us in the West, yet we are sleepwalking through it all. Simply take the abortion holocaust as an example.
With 45-50 million unborn babies killed every year, this makes the Nazi killing-machine look rather insipid. We are no different from the Germans of 75 years ago. We worry about our hair. We don’t like to be disturbed. We are annoyed by any interruptions to our life of pleasure and leisure.
You can imagine a contemporary Brigitte Eicke writing on Twitter: “Margot and I went to the mall cinema to see a film. It was such a lovely film, but there was a pro-life demo just outside. How annoying!”
And it is not just the masses of unconcerned and morally numb unbelievers. Most Christians are no different. We have abortuaries close by to our megachurches, yet we are far too interested in being entertained, amused and theologically coddled than to give a rip about the killing centres next door.
Most pastors will never mention this issue — after all, they have the crowds to please, the buildings to pay off, and the weekly offerings to be concerned about. Rocking the boat and causing offence is the last thing most pastors want to do.
So they will remain silent — deadly silent, about the most important human rights issue of our time. Sure, once in a while they may run with a politically-correct sermon on asylum-seekers or the “evils of capitalism”, but they will refuse to speak up for the unborn.
They are safe, secure and totally in tune with what their listeners want to hear. They will not tell their congregations what they need to hear. Those in the pulpits and pews are well-fed, comfortable, entertained, complacent, lethargic — and spiritually dead.
They are those who have blood on their hands. They may know of the 90,000 innocent souls slaughtered each year in Australia, but they refuse to rouse themselves out of their slumber and damnable indifference.
We, the supposed people of God, and our leaders, have blood on our hands. We know that great darkness is surrounding us, great evil is enveloping us, yet we say nothing — and we do nothing. But we will not be held guiltless.
We will be asked why we ignored verses such as Proverbs 24:11 (“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter”) and Proverbs 31:8 (“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves”).
What possible defence do we have?
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously warned: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com
Jane Paulick, “Hairdos and movies: The carefree life of a teen in wartime Berlin”, Spiegel Online, June 12, 2013.
Tony Paterson, “Diary of Second World War German teenager reveals young lives untroubled by Nazi Holocaust in wartime Berlin”, The Independent (UK), June 16, 2013.
A carefree life in wartime Berlin
Brigitte “Gitti” Eicke, right, with a friend.
Gitti [Brigitte Eicke] is 86-years-old now, and she lives just a few streets away from where she grew up.
She remains unapologetic about her indifference. “I was young and busy with my own life,” she recalls.
Just around the corner from where she worked was a nursing home in the Grosse Hamburger Strasse serving as a collection center for Jewish transports to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. “My son always said to me: How could you have been so oblivious?” she says. “I never saw a thing!”
Nazi terminology still trips easily off her tongue. “Berlin was already Judenrein (“cleansed of Jews”) by then, and I was too young to have noticed anything before that. There were some Jewish girls in my first ever class photograph, taken in 1933, but by the time the next was taken, they were all gone. When I asked my mother about them, she said they had moved to Palestine.”
Decades would pass before she understood what had happened. “It was only when I visited Buchenwald in the 1970s that I saw photographs of the camps,” she remembers. “It took me years to realise what had gone on.”
Humble as it is, Gitti’s story is emblematic. As British historian Ian Kershaw wrote in 1983: “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.”
She is immune to ideology. All she does is swim with the tide, blithely chronicling her rise through the ranks of the League of German Girls (BDM) and cursorily mentioning in March 1944 that she has joined the Nazi party. She does so mainly to make friends, it seems.
Extract from Jane Paulick, “Hairdos and movies: The carefree life of a teen in wartime Berlin”, Der Spiegel, June 12, 2013.
Silence in the face of evil
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a Lutheran pastor, was one of the German Christians courageous enough to speak out against Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, when most of his fellow-countrymen were silent on the subject or even complicit with the evil being perpetrated.
He particularly denounced apathy among Christians, famously telling a group of seminary students he was teaching: “Only he who cries out for the Jews may also sing Gregorian chant.”
Bonhoeffer quotation is from James W. Woelfel, Bonhoeffer’s Theology: Classical and Revolutionary (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1970), p.248.