Kelly tried to understand and define the “Nazi character”, but ultimately concluded that none existed. After his evaluation of the 22 Nazi prisoners during Nuremburg, Kelly noted – “I am quite certain that there are people even in America who would willingly climb over corpses of half of the American public if they could control the other half.”
We may never get to fully understand why ordinary people may choose to be apathetic toward great evil, but what is clear is that as long as they are convinced that their actions are efficient in producing the result they want, nothing will stop them. And when such a person has the gifts of charm, sympathy, and magnetism, the results are nothing less than catastrophic for society.
As more of the “greatest generation” fades into history, and no corporate living memory exists of Auschwitz-Birkenau or the tragedy of World War II, it will be increasingly important for new generations to be formed as moral and ethical critical thinkers who can avoid the seduction of power, and come to a morally correct conclusion on the intrinsic dignity of every individual and the basic freedom of individual conscience.
When we look at the educational landscape of our nation today, however, it doesn’t seem that we are preparing the present or future generations for this kind of moral and ethical critical thinking. You can progress today from kindergarten to a three-year bachelor’s degree without ever having to take a mandatory course in ethics, morals, or even civics. The lack of “civil discourse” among our national leaders is already a symptom of this deficiency. This should give us cause for concern and motivate leaders to find a way to correct this.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau we should be aware that we all have a moral obligation to maintain the memory of this tragic event in human history and look critically at our own signs of the times to avoid such pitfalls.
Fr. Avelino Gonzalez is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington and pastor of St. Gabriel Church in NW, Washington, DC. This article was originally published on CatholicJournal.us.