Freedom can be defined as “the condition of being free of restraints; liberty of the person from slavery, detention, or oppression.” When applied to life, however, freedom is best defined as “the capacity to exercise choice; free will.” Yet, as with many privileges, humans often take for granted their freewill until they lose it. Time and time again, history has displayed that in times of great oppression those who had the freedom of speech did not bother to speak. ”We are so accustomed to freedom that we neglected our responsibility to guarantee it shall be the birth right of future generations” (Pagnozzi). We choose to neglect our freedom. We choose not to get involved. We choose to be indifferent. The Holocaust is considered the most horrible consequence of indifference the world has ever known. According to Peter Padfield, “Without the active and passive aid of millions, the catastrophe Nazism wrought not have been possible” (Haswell). Scholars alike agree, stating that “the Holocaust’s occurrence relied only upon the indifference of bystanders in every land” (Zukier 61).
Indifference, by definition, is “not caring one way or the other.” It, nonetheless, goes much deeper than the definition suggests. Cynthia Ozick writes, “Indifference is not so much a gesture of looking away – of choosing to be passive – as it is an active disinclination to feel. Indifference shuts down the humane, and does is deliberately, with all the strength deliberateness demands. Indifference is as determined – and as forcefully muscular – as any blow” (Bystanders).
The bystanders were the ordinary citizens who while complying with laws, watched as millions of people were murdered in front os their lives. It was those who walked right past the derogatory word scrawled on shops owned by Jews; those who looks right past the disrespectful soldiers in the streets. It was the 500.000 who received the Der Stürmer newspaper each week, never standing up to the persecution that lined its pages.
Despite the cruel indifference commonly displayed toward the refugees, a few individuals used their freedom to make a difference. Many took the persecuted into their homes, risking their own lives as well as the lives of their families.
The story of Kurt Gerstein, a German spy in the SS, serves as an example of how one can use their freedom to help those who have no freedom. Although arrested and imprisoned twice for Anti-Nazi activities, Gerstein was able to see the concentration camps from the inside. While in the camps, he buried Zyklon B canisters that he was supposed to help implement in the gas chamber. He quickly left, in hopes of exposing what he knew to the world. Although he was killed in the process, he informed thousands of people about the Nazi’s horrific executions. He was able to spread his message – “We are responsible in a way they can’t be” (Rosenberg).
Unfortunately, people like Kurt Gerstein were just a small minority. Why out of so many millions of people did so few act or even speak up? The Holocaust forces us to explore the depths of the human psyche for answers. “Any living creature when in life danger, either fights whit his enemy, like a lion or tiger, runs for his life, like a deer or malibu, or fades into the environment by various methods of camouflaging like a chameleon” (Zukier 61). We have the choice of how to use our freedom. Manu humans choose to “fade” into the environment, feeling that being neutral will bring the least consequences. It is true, after all, that caring deeply about something carries with it a greater risk of being hurt. But isn’t life about risks?
A further cause of indifference is human discrepancy between freewill and goodwill. As humans, we live following our own freewill – making our own choices and deciding our own actions. This often comes into conflict with goodwill, our willingness to be moral and caring. Although it would be ideal that having freewill, we would choose to follow our goodwill, incidences like the Holocaust prove that this is not so. With the choice of whether or not to get involved in the Holocaust, many opted against helping the Holocaust victims, and in doing so neglected the goodwill of humanity. Often when we are granted freedom, we use it in all the wrong ways.
Through my writing, I am able to use the freedom I have been granted to make a stand. It is only through choosing to use our freedom that any future acts of apathy, like the Holocaust, can be prevented. We are free to speak. We are free to write. We are free to learn. Let us learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and choose to use our freedom to ensure that freedom is upheld.