"We are seeing the corroboration of the well-known psychological law that slaves who are totally beaten down cannot revolt," Ringelblum wrote not long before the uprising in the ghetto. "Now it seems that the Jews are recovering a bit from the heavy blows; they have sobered up as a result of their sufferings and have concluded that [passively] going to the slaughter did not make the number of victims smaller but, on the contrary, it made the number larger. No matter whom you talk to now, you hear the same thing: we should not have allowed the Great Deportation to have taken place. We should have gone into the streets, we should have burned down everything, blasted the walls and run to the other side. The Germans would have taken their revenge. It would have cost tens of thousands of casualties, but not three hundred thousand. Now we are covered in shame and ignominy, both in our own eyes and in the eyes of the entire world, since our passivity gave us nothing. This should not happen again. Children and adults must defend themselves against the enemy."
Ringelblum, as Samuel D. Kassow wrote in "Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive From the Warsaw Ghetto... "was absolutely convinced that the story of Jewish suffering, no matter how terrible, was a universal story and not just a Jewish one. And evil, no matter how great, could not be placed outside of history."
We all have the capacity for evil. The line between the executioner and the victim is razor-thin. Ringelblum and his writers warned us of how easy it is to surrender our better selves in the name of survival. They cautioned us against the danger of political ideologies, careerism, opportunism, the lust for violence and the loss of empathy. They excoriated those who survived at the expense of another. Ringelblum and his writers buried their records shortly before most of them were killed. In their final moments they cried out for us to be faithful to the good. They could not save themselves. But they could, they hoped, save us.
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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
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