Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Nazi Who Was Too Old


I made the mistake of reading the reply tweets to an article about Hans Lipschis, a Nazi guard stationed at Auschwitz, that has recently been taken into custody in Germany on the basis that he committed war crimes. He will be prosecuted. He is 93.

The tweets on his hash tag -yes, he has his own hash tag- include "let him die alone leave the poor man alone [sic]," "his 93 wat u gna do to him end his long life [sic]," and "At 93?" For the time being, ignoring all egregious grammatical errors, I question the morality of these comments on the basis that a) I am not entirely sure that the people responsible for prosecuting Mr. Lipschis are checking up on Twitter's #Lipschis and b) most nonagenarians are not implicit in the systematic and systemic mass murder of a third of an ethnicity's entire population.

"Oh, sure, that geriatric beat his wife and burned his dog more than a half-century ago. But, and I quote, 'wat u gna do to him end his long life [sic]' in the name of justice? Phooey! Let that cute, little old man live!"

What if Hitler managed to stay safe in his bunker until the ripe old age of 93? When people found him, would the populace have said, "Come on! He's old. 'wat u gna do to him end his long life [sic]' 'At 93?'" What if it is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev 70 years from now? Osama bin Laden? Perhaps, for the sake of argument, we need less high profile figures. How about a member of the Taliban who raped women and beat children? A boy soldier of the Interahamwe armed with a machete in the Rwandan genocide murdering a Tutsis child? Or what if one of the men involved with the rape of a five year old girl in India escapes to anonymity and lives until 93 before anyone finds him again? Raise your hand, please, if you would be content to allow anyone linked to the plotting and execution of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to escape with impunity until old age.

Some argue, "If you were a German citizen, you could not say "No" to the Nazis," or that "many of Germans were simply too young to understand." Like our former pope, Mr. Ratzinger, yes? At the beginning of the movie Downfall, Hitler's real-life secretary discusses that youth and ignorance, in retrospect, were no excuse for revering der F├╝rher and for allowing the events of the Holocaust. I agree.

I saw a man with a swastika tattooed on his arm today. My wife had just had a procedure done at the hospital and the nurse and I were wheeling her to another office in the building. He was in the waiting room wearing a black tank-top, wearing mostly black, with a girlfriend who was texting on a black iPhone and also wearing mostly black. Between the two of them, they had many black tattoos. None were of an Auschwitz prisoner identification number. The swastika, of course, stood out to me, being one of an extreme minority in the oh-so-diverse state of Maine. I had a thousand reasons to discuss with this fine gentleman the amorality of his tat, the embarrassment he brings to the human race, or simply to tell him the insignia is facing the wrong direction (a funny, albeit unwise, prank). Then, I sobered up. I had my wife to tend to and my children to think about -a father should not be risk a physical altercation, especially with a stranger. Maybe he had a knife. Maybe he would follow me. Maybe he had a gun. I wanted, and still want, him to know that he and all the Lipschises of the world should be prosecuted for the environment of fear they instill in normal people and their children. I wanted to declare in his face, so he could feel the heat of my breath, "I'm not scared of you."

But I was.

He wins.

Lipschis wins.

Hitler wins.

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