940.5318. I stand gazing at the library stacks. Two shelves are stuffed full of books about the Holocaust. The tragedies inflicted upon human beings are too much to contemplate and I am compelled to denounce the evils of Hitler and his followers.
It is these images of the Second World War that have dominated twentieth century history and memories, especially here, a continent, a language and a generation or two away from the conflict.
But relatives that lived through this time told me things I did not hear in history class or read anywhere else. Placing their war and post-war experiences, into the context of history has been a puzzling challenge.
Expulsion of the Germans should also be found somewhere in 940.53 but the bookshelves do not reveal their secrets so easily. Hints of this other genocide are consigned to the odd paragraph or footnotes in larger works. Full books on the subject can only be accessed through inter-library loan or in German, which I don’t read well enough to understand.
In part this information is not available because the victors write the history and a close examination of the events surrounding the end of war reveal that the Allies were not always the heroes that popular history portrays. Dirty laundry, a few skeletons. It is complicated. There is sometimes misunderstanding when telling this story. After all, the Germans were the cause of the war and deserved what they got. Didn’t they? Further, as I reveal this story to others, I do not want to be lumped in with Holocaust deniers who diminish the suffering of the Jews and twist history to their own myopic ends.
In her book “Inside the Parrot’s Cage,” Gerda Wever Rabehl explains some of the difficulties and shame encountered by survivors from the “other side,” when history was overshadowed by that greater evil. The subject of her story is a man named Joachim, a German prisoner-of-war unable to properly share his memories, for no-one really wanted to hear or try to understand.
She states, “…suffering anywhere needs to be heard and learned from … these stories can live side by side one another without diminishing their legitimacy, power, or their own claims to truth.”
I want to tell the truth, to make sure we are not ignorant of history. Capacity for evil is not exclusive to any one group and suffering does not recognize race or creed. It is a universal human problem.