Let me start right off by stating that I’m hugely opposed to the death penalty. Even if it affects the murderer who was responsible for those near and dear to me. Hypothetically speaking, of course. Chiefly because the powers that be tend to jump to conclusions where a guilty verdict is concerned, more often than not “guided” by racial profiling. And then, too, are we really viewing the death penalty as just punishment, or are we so gung ho about it because it gives us a sense of satisfaction, all while allowing us to play God. Which is understandable, the guilty party took something of indescribable value from us, we need the satisfaction of revenge in order to obtain closure.
The idea, of course, is that we speak from a much higher moral ground than the perpetrator. And that’s the other issue I have with the death penalty. Aren’t we then the same as the murderer, just viewed from the opposite angle? You hurt me, I will now (have to) hurt you back, is the logic. Of course I’m not saying that we should just turn the other cheek and let atrocities and crimes go unpunished. We need another method, it’s just that we haven’t quite found it yet.
I’m also for the Norwegian model of incarceration, where the prisoners engage in activities with the guards. Because the tried and tested system gives guards sadistic power, which instead of doing what prison is supposed to do – punish and reform – just breeds even more hatred.
Call me a liberal for that, if you want, though I wouldn’t put a label on myself: I’m by no means authoritarian, but I do believe that it’s a good idea to have a leader, who should be more guide than absolute monarch though. I’m also not automatically on the side of the underdog, and I usually try to see both sides.
So, don’t call me a liberal, but bear all that in mind. Because I do believe that a former concentration camp guard should be punished for his crimes, even if he’s 96 and a day (or two or three). But I also believe that he shouldn’t be given the death penalty. Because that would be too kind. Where we lived in Germany people still cried into their porridge every day over the loss of the war, not over the atrocities committed, but that they’d lost, that the Americans had established a base in the town and were now monitoring them.
My opinion that this was where all the Nazis who couldn’t afford to go overseas after the war ended up hasn’t changed with the passage of time. Subtle signs and outright demonstrations of their conviction that German superiority is still a thing will teach you very quickly that paying lip service to something can easily mask a person’s innermost thoughts. Of course it’s not a popular opinion, and people will quickly “set you right.” But at the risk of sounding (passive-) aggressive, it’s my experience, it’s shaped my opinion of what Germany (with the exception of Hamburg, Munich, and Berlin) signifies to me, and the less-than-a-handful of German friends I have will not change that.
I should add – in the spirit of fairness – that I once had a really great conversation about this with someone who ended up becoming a friend. I’m sure I mentioned it here, so I’ll just do a very brief recap. I told her how I felt about Germany and the Germans, and she told me she could totally understand. Then she told me that though her grandfather had been in the SS, to her he’d always just been grandpa. It actually wasn’t something I found hard to understand. Then she added with a mischievous grin, “you can imagine how mad he was when my mother named me Sarah.”
It illustrated a subtle point. That for many of those who served their nation and “were just following orders,” – a point we will revisit further below – it wasn’t just a case of them or me, the hatred and contempt, the sense of superiority was all too real. They hated them before, and they continue to hate them to their grave, even trying to pass that attitude on to their children and grandchildren. I’ve seen it over and over again in school, with my mother’s acquaintances, and in countless – albeit very subtle – micro aggressions that are practically impossible to prove but are not overreations. The grandfather’s reaction to my friend’s name being another case in point (a more open and liberal mind than myself would argue that just maybe he repented and didn’t want to be reminded of his war crimes, but I’m not there yet. If you haven’t figured it out, the Holocaust does affect me personally, beyond having lived in Naziville, on several levels).
My Hungarian brethren (and I use that term very loosely here), – and this will come to no one’s surprise – have, of course, quite different ideas. The story ran on at least two Hungarian portals, and most commentators pleaded for the “poor guy” to get a break, because “he’s so old, frail, and it happened so many years ago, ” as per the second most used argument, the first one being, “he was just a soldier obeying orders.”
Like I said earlier, I’m not the most ardent supporter of an eye for an eye, but this argument just fails on so many levels. When gangbangers go and beat up another man (who’s usually an equal opponent), the public demands they be locked away, in a high security prison. The argument that one of the gangbangers was just “following orders” would, at best, be scoffed at. In the worst case they’d call you a liberal, and crazy.
But Jews (and Roma) are not Hungarian, which was the third most popular argument. Or rather, “they are either Jewish, Roma (clearly not the word that was used), or Hungarian but never both.” So let the poor guy live out his life in peace and quiet. To be fair, some people called these commentators out, stating how absurd their thinking was, but they were few and far between. For the most part those commenting showed pity and compassion towards “that frail little old man.” Contrast that with the demands for the bus driver’s head who was involved in a road accident involving the death of several school children with Hungarian passports a while back, ’nuff said.
Don’t get me wrong, the bus accident was a huge tragedy. But most sources treated it like a national tragedy rather than a tragedy which involved children, as though the country itself had gotten hurt and not the children. Hungarians, for the most part, don’t like strangers. Or rather, as someone once told me, “we like foreigners, but we like them to leave.” And the Jews along with the Roma (remember, there are no hyphenated Hungarians, there can’t be) for the most part (give or take a decent-sized portion of the population who believe in mobility and are of a more adventurous spirit than the nationalistic keyboard warriors) have no intentions to live anytime soon. And why would they if their families have been here for generations, much like their Caucasian-identifying brethren, the only home they’ve ever known.
So, I say lock him up, make sure it’s a ward where prisoners lost loved ones during the Holocaust, and throw away the key. Ah, but he’s too old and frail, the defenders say. To them I have one question, how much did he care when he sent those who were (possibly) old(er) and (more) frail to their death?