Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the hottest places in hell...

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality."  I saw this quote from Dante on a poster at the United States Holocaust Museum last weekend while in DC for the March for Life.  It was quite an experience. As soon as we stepped of the elevator, there was a sea of youth groups in absolute silence.  Hundreds of teenagers not saying a word to one another.  Not texting, not talking, not even trying to console each other with inappropriate public displays of affection.  The experience really stands out in my mind as the only time there was absolute silence all weekend.  Confronting absolute evil tends to have that effect on people, even teenagers.

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I had the chance to tour Auschwitz with some friends from college (including my good friend and blogger Cathleen).  I had always been a sort of Holocaust junkie, choosing to do my third grade book report on The Diary of Anne Frank and then moving on to The Hiding Place and any other stories I could find.  I thought I knew what to expect when we tumbled out of our cab and entered under the classic "Arbeit macht frei" sign.

Nothing, I learned, can really prepare you for what you experience actually walking through a Concentration Camp.  Standing in the gas chambers, facing the wall that was used for executions, visiting the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe was starved to death...  It makes it real.  Your brain wants to deny that something that horrible is possible, but the evidence is there.  Then you want to do something but you realize you're several decades late to the scene.

When I was touring the museum last weekend I kept asking...  "what would I have done?"  It's easy to judge those who ignored or denied as lazy or even evil , but to really ask yourself, "what would I have done" is terrifying, because you just don't know.  Then you start thinking... decades from now, what will people be saying about me?  About my generation?  When Auschwitz was liberated, they discovered shoes, suitcases, and even human hair belonging to the victims.  It's a display that makes you physically ill, evidence of evil that cannot be denied.

Watching this video this morning I realized that this is the evidence gathering against my generation.  This is our moral crisis.  

Decades from now, what will be said about us?

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