It’s easy to look back on the injustices in history, while shaking your fist and saying, “Well I woulda…!”
This is especially true when we reflect on the WWII era and the rise of Nazi rule that ultimately ushered in the Holocaust and the death of millions. Whether imagining yourself as an American at the time or someone living in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, most people I know seem to claim they would have been among the brave souls who stood up and said something… who stood up and did something.
My conservative evangelical friends especially seem to love to fantasize about what they would have done, likening themselves to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the Eric Metaxas version who was a conservative evangelical assassin, not the Bonhoeffer of history who was a Lutheran, an LGBTQ Christian, and wasn’t directly involved in any assassination plot). Yet, until now, the question as to “Who would you have been?” or, “What would you have done if you lived back then?” has been purely hypothetical and imaginary.
But this question is no longer hypothetical. It is no longer imaginary.
And neither is the answer to the question.
In fact, this question has an incredibly easy answer. Who would you have been had you lived during this historical era of evil and injustice? What would you have done?
You’d be the same person you are now.
You would have done what you are doing now.
It’s easy to sit there and push back, saying, “Nope, those two things are not the same.” While I agree that Hitler comparisons and calling people Nazi’s is often overplayed in today’s parlance, the era you find yourself in is eerily similar. And yes– who you would have been during the rise and rule of the Third Reich, and what you would have done to stop the injustices and atrocities committed against the innocent, is exactly who you are today– and exactly what you’re doing now.
You see, Hitler didn’t begin by building gas chambers. Like the old analogy of a frog in a pot that slowly heats up until it’s too late, the road that paved the way to gas chambers was much more incremental, subtle, socially palatable, seemingly justified, or easily ignored– both to those within Germany, and without.
It all started with a nation who felt their glory days were over, and who worried their economy was in trouble. Along came a leader who connected with those who were scared, angry, and nostalgic for the past. This new leader promised to fix the economy; he was determined to rebuild their military, and he convinced the masses that he would Make Germany Great Again.
They caved into their fears, and they bought into his vision– probably never imagining it would one day end in death camps.
Getting to that point happened slowly, and in ways that few seemed to challenge or find too objectionable. He’d call the media “fake news” in a move that would later make it easy to deny what was really happening. He blamed their problems on Jewish immigrants who he called “viruses” and “leeches” and claimed were destroying the economy. Eventually the masses of scared and angry white people, individuals who probably would have objected to the idea of death camps at the onset of his rule, had been subtly convinced that Jews were leeches who were getting in the way of Making Germany Great Again– so they turned a blind eye to some evils, and actively participated in others.
These individuals not only ended up on the wrong side of history, they were lulled into collectively committing one of the most evil acts the world has ever known. And those who stood up at the end, stood up too late– because the battle should not have been waged at death camps– it should have been waged when the foundation was still being laid.
The foundation upon which death camps were built began with unchecked nationalistic pride, nostalgia for the past, promises to Make Germany Great Again, accusations the media was fake news, and speech after speech that blamed Germany’s problems on immigrants who were supposedly killing the economy.
By the time there was an actual building erected on that foundation, it was too late.
So, who would you have been during Nazi Germany?
What would you have done?
Would you have been on the right side of history, or complicit on the road to horrific evil?
I don’t need you to answer that question, because I already know the answer.
Who you would have been, is exactly who you are now.
And what you would have done, is what you’re doing today.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.