Tonight I watched "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas."
It is a film about the Holocaust. I think you know how it ends.
I found out about it on Slate; a number of commenters were discussing it one day, and I was intrigued. I looked it up and thus knew how it ended when I checked it out from the library. I've kind of dreaded watching it because, well, it's a film about the Holocaust. It requires viewers to confront one of the worst crimes against humanity ever condoned. It is far different from most of the other movies I watch, which are intended more to distract me from reality for a short time. They're supposed to be a vacation.
This was not. And I knew it wouldn't be, but it's still hard to see the faces of the doomed, hear the sounds of a man being beaten to death and take in how utterly dehumanized the Jews were. And this is only a movie that's not even rated mature enough to be all that realistic.
I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that humans can be so brutal, that they could otherize a group of people to the extent that incinerating them seemed reasonable. It's hard to imagine ever feeling OK about beating another human being, humiliating them or even just being there seeing them so alone and afraid. Granted, I'm a bleeding heart, so I get sad when I step on the snails that congregate on my sidewalk. I can't imagine hitting a person, much less being part of the deaths of millions. How deranged must a person -- an entire people -- be to perpetuate the Holocaust? It wasn't even a rapid extermination. The Jews suffered for years -- suffered simply for being Jewish.
I didn't watch the movie, though, in preparation for the time I'll spend in a concentration camp in three weeks. I didn't watch it because it was highly acclaimed or because, being part German, that history is my history too.
I watched it in an attempt to feel something.
Sometimes in my line of work people get calloused. We see the worst of humanity. People call and yell at us. Nothing is ever easy. I have lost a lot of my faith in humanity over the years watching criminals and politicians and athletes engage in wanton self-destruction. You cease to be surprised at things. You try not to feel sorrow, sympathy or concern for people because you would be overwhelmed with the life-threatening problems around you.
I've engaged in a little of my own self-destruction, too, as a way to balance things out. And to cope. And the result of that has been a general numbness to the things that come my way. I assume every politician is bad. I assume every phone call is someone calling to complain. I assume every comment on my story is someone who disagrees with me. I assume every potential relationship is going to fail. I assume people are going to hurt me.
The good news is, even though I think the wide-eyed innocence is gone forever, the teddy bear I had as a baby is still a sure thing.