Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On The Amazing Power of Denial

Over this past weekend my Dear Husband and I watched the movie Downfall, which is about the final days of the Third Reich seen through the eyes of Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge. It wasn't quite as soul-shaking as Shindler's List (thank God), but it was very powerful -- perhaps because it was a German-made film about the Third Reich.

Visually, the movie was amazing. The performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler was perhaps one of the all time greatest screen performances I have ever seen, albeit one of the most creepy and disturbing. The soundtrack was magnificent. Overall, the movie was very powerful and moving, despite being in German (a language I can't stand to hear spoken -- sounds like people clearing their throats) with English subtitles.

For the first 98% of the movie, I kept asking (as I have every time I've watched a WWII movie) how the Germans could follow a maniac like that and, at the same time, how they could profess not to know what was happening. This movie gave me an inkling of how each of those things could happen. The seduction of a Dream (even if it is a Big Lie) is a powerful thing. The human ability to ignore gruesome and painful facts is one way the species has survived, because it has kept people moving forward when all the facts weighed against it. It is also a way for people to ignore obvious but inconvenient evils that exist right under their noses.

The people who supported Hitler could have and perhaps should have known what was going on. The German people have protested for more than 60 years that they didn't know the full reality of the horrors the Nazis unleashed on their country. I always thought that was disingenuous. How could they not know?

Maybe they didn't know because they were so busy living their lives and trying to get through their days, they didn't look. And for some -- like Traudl Junge -- they were so close they could see the human side of the face of evil, and they were far removed from the reality of the evil that had been unleashed on Europe outside the inner circle.

I found myself feeling compassion for Junge, who was young and clueless and who chose not to see the inconvenient and horrible truths that surrounded her.

The most chilling parts of the movie for me were the scenes in which the True Believers expressed their absolute, unconditional, and eternal faith in Hitler, despite everything, the most significant of which involved Magda Goebbels poisoning her six children.

I have always asked, incredulously: How could that be?

I sit here tonight and feel sure that, as incredible as it may be, it was possible then and it is possible today. Perhaps I should rethink my reluctance to keep apprised of the news!

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