Letter: The deliberately practiced art of not knowing
In July it was reported that 89-year-old Johann Breyer died a day after a judge issued an order granting a request for him to be extradited to Germany to face trial. Breyer had claimed he was unaware of the massive slaughter at Auschwitz. The judge ruled that was unlikely to be true.
Growing up, we were taught in school about the horrific events that my older relatives went to war over. Over and over again it was emphasized that allied soldiers were stunned to hear from the German people that they “did not know” what was happening, even when they lived in close proximity to train stations and camps. “How could they not know?” asked the soldiers. It seemed impossible that they wouldn’t have known.
Later in my life, living in Nuremberg, Germany, I learned that during that awful time it was downright dangerous to “know” what was happening. If you “knew,” you might feel the need to object. If you objected, even in the privacy of your own home, you might disappear at 4 a.m. never to be seen again. The world has held the German people accountable without a requirement of proof of actual knowledge for the past 70 years, and the German people have accepted that being scared to know something does not excuse the deliberate not knowing of it. “Nie Wieder” is a prominent German motto. It stands for “never again” will the German people allow themselves to be misled by their government and suppressed by fear.
Recently, I attempted to talk to a colleague about what is happening in Gaza. I had been shocked at the media suppression of certain events, suppression overcome only by Twitter and other social media. My colleague made it very clear that she absolutely does not want to know anything about this or other world events. She is not alone in this. How many of us really want to know what is happening without media slant or suppression? How does it make us feel to “know” how many children are being killed in their own homes and on the beach and in public parks and in U.N. schools by targeted missile strikes that are impossible to avoid or escape? If we did “know,” would we be compelled to do something?
At the very least, would we wonder why our taxpayer funds are being used to support an additional $225 million missile-defense program for a country with excellent missile defense instead of protection for the country where deadly missiles are killing civilians every day? Would we wonder why our taxpayer money is paying for those deadly missiles? Would we wonder what we would think and do if we lived under constant shelling and watched our friends, relatives and children die or suffer horrific injuries? Would we wonder if future generations will judge us and conclude that not wanting to “know” something does not excuse the deliberate not knowing of it?