Chelsea Corcoran
Pensacola, FL


 

"We heard about the Jews. Yes we heard, but we did not believe. Hitler was our leader. He saved us from depression. And he was so powerful when he spoke. We knew it was all Jewish propaganda. It was, after all, wartime. Many were in prisoner of war camps –– many. Did the Jews think they were special –– calling all this attention to themselves? Holocaust! Holocaust! Destruction on the Jews! As though they were the ones targeted. People in wars die in concentration camps. My own father knows. During WW I he was in a French POW camp. It was inhuman. Yes, he knew. Being a POW, being treated like that, it’s just a fact of war. It’s a fact of war. Everybody suffers. Yes, we heard about the Jews, but we did not believe."

When I heard my grandmother say these words, I knew she would be my best teacher. She was a child of WW II, growing up in Nazi Germany. As a sophomore in High School, in 2001, and the youngest in my family, I have never experienced the horrors of war that my Grandmother endured. I do know that I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America each morning. I do not think twice when told that we are the greatest country on earth. Putting myself in my Grandmother’s shoes, it is not hard to imagine that she could believe the same thing about her own country. We tend to think that propaganda only comes from someplace else. We seldom question what has been ingrained in our belief system. Is it any wonder that a young girl from Nazi Germany would believe any differently? What happens psychologically to those who live through something like that, all the time believing their country will be the victor, of course, because their country is right? Lofty ideas like, "in wars there are no winners," are the philosophies of nations at peace. If you are caught in war, you only pray for victory.

In Bernhard Schlink’s book, The Reader, he describes how the main character is riding to visit Struthof in Alsace to try, as a second generation German, to come to terms with the atrocities that are plaguing his mind. The driver asks him, "What is it you want to understand? You understand that people murder out of passion . . . or for honor or revenge. That you understand. But executioners don’t hate the people they execute. And they execute them all the same. An executioner is not under orders, he’s doing his work . . . They’re (those being executed) a matter of such indifference to him that he can kill them as easily as not."

It’s the indifference that is chilling. I now begin to comprehend the tensions of war and the ease with which we are manipulated by propaganda, and I am afraid. I am afraid as my Grandmother climbs in the back of an American Army truck full of men in prison uniforms. "What was your crime?" she asks them, and in return hearing the words, "I am a Jew," or "I married a Jew." She just then begins to see beyond her door of propaganda.

Most frightening of all is how subtle propaganda is, how it creeps into the backdoors of our minds until is a part of our skin and eyes and ears. How do you undo something that has become a part of you, especially when you don’t even know it’s there? Sometimes propaganda hides under the disguise of legality. It is easy to take for granted that, because, something is legal, it is also moral and because it is illegal, it is immoral. This is ingrained in us as children. We only have to look at what was legal in Nazi Germany to see this fallacy. I start to wonder about what propaganda I have been affected by that I don’t even realize, yet. What effect will it leave on me? How powerful and hypnotic is this instrument that only started to let go of my Grandmother when the Berlin Wall came crashing down, and when she uttered, "Maybe, just maybe there really was a Holocaust."

We are responsible for keeping up our guard against this false information. We are absolutely responsible for making sure our choices are ethical and making sure we don’t sit silent while immoral actions go on around us. We must be alert. We are obligated to be aware of what’s happening in our midst. We must also know that it is morally wrong to refuse to look at things that surround us because of what we’re afraid we might see. And we are morally obligated to act. Not a little bit, not even a lot, but completely. Even Schlindler was tormented by what else he might have done. But, also, I think when unethical acts do occur, we must be careful that we do not punish perpetrators with the old ‘eye for an eye’, ‘tooth for a tooth’ method. We, then, do nothing to elevate humanity.

In Victor Frankl’s book, Mans Search for Meaning he describes the campos (the Jewish guards) as being as terrible to the Jews as the Nazis were for the sake of their own survival. It is important that, as human beings, we do not sink to the level to those committing unethical acts. But, we must condemn the acts that were committed and, as hard as this may be to even comprehend, we must embrace the person. Even the most deplorable, despicable individual must be examined for his or her redeeming qualities. Once humanity rises to the level of being able to celebrate our differences, we never have to live in fear of another Holocaust. It’s amazing. With all the torture the Jews have gone through, all the horrors of the concentration camps they endured, how one little Jewish girl can say, "I still believe people are good at heart."

Primary Sources

Corcoran, Karen. Personal Interview. 3, November 2000.

My mother, Karen Corcoran, being a much older mother, told me stories of my Grandmother who was in Germany during the War. She put many thing in chronological order, so I could see at what point was what taking place. I was able to learn more about my Grandmother and her experience including being held at gunpoint by the American Soldiers.

Corcoran, Robert. Personal Interview. 4, November, 2000.

My Uncle Bob was also able to corroborate the stories of my grandparents. The children were told stories at unpredictable times, and he was able to provide details unknown to the sisters.

"Dear Home Letters." Cox Video. 1990. 48 min.

This movie truly touched me. It was like living in the moment, watching day by day from the safe world I’ve known my whole life, and peaking in to a dangerous and insane world where there is no trust or safety. I watched this with excitement and at the end I watched it with fear and with little understanding. I’m sitting back now still trying to process all the letters that have been read, trying to capture all the words that have been put with such power and feeling. A man, Robert Manis used a metaphor that I can not forget. "the snowballs turned to grenades" he said, "The cold water from the snow trickling down your back turn to blood. The Snowman turned to army tanks." This was real, and it scared me.

Spada, Deborah. Personal Interview. 5, October 2000.

This aunt was also able to recall stories told by my grandparents. Being the youngest, my Grandmother confided in her frequently. She proved to be a "consistency lever" showing which stories remained the same through time.

Szocik, Sheila. Personal Interview. 5, October 2000.

My aunt recalled past stories told by my Grandmother and Grandfather. She was able to fill in what my other relatives had forgotten or were unaware of.

Traut–Corcoran, Inge. Personal interview. 3, October, 2000.

This is my most valuable source, my Grandmother. She did not like to talk about the War at all. In fact, she was very, very short–tempered. She had the most terrific stories I think I’ve ever heard. A victim herself of Nazi Germany and the effects of propaganda, she, only recently realized the Holocaust truly happened. Her sister, Ilse, also helped to clarify the situations that Ms. Traut–Corcoran refused to talk about.

Traut–Franke, Ilse. Personal Interview. 27, October 2000.

Ms. Franke is from Wuppertal/Barmen, Germany. I talked with her through an interpreter. She spoke only German, but she had the most amazing stories of her and her sisters, Inge and Renate. This was an excellent source. She was one of the most helpful.

 

Secondary Sources

Ambrose, Stephen. New History of World War II. New York: Viking Penguin, 1966.

This was extremely helpful in gathering historical background of the War and placing my Grandmother’s stories in chronological order.

Berlin Information Center. Outlook: Berlin. Uberblick Berlin: Informationszentrum, 1989.

This describes the background and the tension that lead from the building to the tearing of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin Information Center. Berlin. Germany: Berlin Touridt, 1990.

This is a Welcome booklet that was actually brought back from Germany. It shows the Encounters, the Arts, the Cultural Life, Places, and the History of Berlin.

"The Diary of Anne Franke" Video.

This movie sensitized me to the plight of the Jews threatened by the Nazis during the war. It allowed me to become empathetic to one particular girl who was approximately my age. It also allowed me to see the war from the perspective of the hunted and the hiding.

Elson, Robert. "Prelude to War: World War II." Time–Life. December 1977.

This was one magazine from a series. This gave me a better understanding politically. It included how the War began and the explained tension that was built up.

Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of the Holocaust. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993.

This book has the product of seven year’s research, and is a comprehensive record of the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jews of Europe during WW II This describes the War as a whole, and has interviews from Jews who were in the camps.

Mayer, S.L. World War II. Toronto: Bison Corporation, 1984.

This book covers the War on land, on sea, and in the air, from Europe to the South Pacific. It identifies areas from famous battles, and the stories of many soldiers. This could be used as a primary source for it has many interviews through the eyes of the US Soldiers of WW II.

Momper, Walter. Vier Tage im November. Sulingen: Stern–Buch im Verlag Gruner+Jahr AG & Co., 1990.

There were wonderful photographs of the Berlin Wall and the tearing down of it as well.

Schlink, Bernard. The Reader. New York: Vintage Books, March, 1999.

The author paints the perspective of the guilt inherited by the descendants of the Germans who lived through the war and either closed their eyes to avoid seeing, or did nothing when they did see. He explores the difficult dilemma of what needs to be done to expunge that guilt.

"Shindler’s List", Video

This helped to paint a picture in my mind of the horrific treatment aimed toward the Jews during WW II Even more than that, it showed how one man could make a difference by standing up to the immorality of the Nazi regime. Even he admitted he could have done more.

Webber, Johnathan., and Connie Wilsack. Auschwitz a History in Photographs. Auschwitz–Birkenau: Oswiecim Museum, 1993.

This was a bunch of photographs taken at the Auschwitz camp. It shows pictures of the Jews, as well as the Gypsies. It’s a sad book to look through. These pictures are all housed at Auschwitz Museum. It’s very depressing, and it gives the reader a painted picture of the scars left from the War.

Wernick Robert. Blitzkrieg: World War II. Virginia: Time–Life, 1977.

This book is full of pictures describing the start of the War all the way to the Cold War. It gives detailed stories about soldiers and survivors of the Holocaust. It even has broadcast announcements from the radio from the famous Neville Chamberlain.

 

 

 


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