By Charles S. Weinblatt
Having devoted my college education and half of my career to psychology and counseling, I appreciate books that offer a frank, emotional examination of behavior and morality. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature; just as love, compassion and devotion exist there. We therefore learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine this part of our psyche.
No human emotion is more powerful than guilt. We are forever tortured by our past and guilt is the primary motivator in our decisions about the future. We can ignore it or learn from it, but we can never escape from it. The guilt of surviving when their loved-ones perished weighs heavily on the minds of Holocaust survivors. They will never escape its grasp. But, they can learn how to live with it.
Memories about this time are dark and precarious. Yet, in the midst of this despair, there was the dichotomy of life, love, passion, desire, religious fervor and the excitement known only to children. In this sense, Holocaust victims embellished the widest range of human characteristics and attributes. Such was the complex state of life in a Nazi ghetto, concentration camp or death camp.
My novel, Jacob’s Courage, describes the Holocaust through the eyes of a normal Jewish family. If we speak only of heroic individuals battling against dark forces, then we dismiss the truth of our nature. Humans are far more complex than such generic characters imply. Not all Jews imprisoned and tortured by Nazi Germany were good. Some became “kapos,” more ruthless than the SS. Not all Germans were bad. Some Germans were riddled with guilt and some expressed tender compassion for the imprisoned Jews. Yet, below the surface of brutality, we find the human instinct for life, liberty, love and compassion.
Most of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps comprehended that they would not survive. Yet, within the ghettos, the incarcerated Jews maintained commerce, prayer, schools, and sometimes even orchestras. They had civic leaders, medical clinics and religious celebrations. Hidden from the SS, the Jews observed all of the covenants and rituals of Judaism, including holidays, marriage ceremonies, burials and circumcisions. Along the terrifying path to the gas chambers of Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews lived, loved, learned and died. Somehow, many of the Jews of Nazi ghettos and concentration camps fabricated a “normal” life for their progeny. Despite their impending mortality, they created a normal world on the inside to protect children from the raging genocide on the outside. Such was the nature of their love. But there was more at stake than parental affection. They recognized that Judaism cannot survive without Jewish children.
The human spirit strives for autonomy and freedom. Yet, if one is to search for an understanding of human nature, then one must descend into the depths of depravity and terror. We cannot understand humanity without comprehending its wicked flaws. Deep within the darkest recesses of brutal genocide, we discover a faint flicker of light representing love, passion, desire, hope and reverence. Here is the essence of humanity; an examination of morality, love and righteousness, in the midst of the dark whirlwind of malevolence.
Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage