The Human Spirit
By Charles S. Weinblatt
As the author of a Holocaust novel, I appreciate books that offer a frank, emotional examination of morality. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature; just as love, compassion and devotion exist there. We therefore learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine this part of our psyche.
In writing about the Shoah (Holocaust), I was forced to examine human behavior during the most brutal and horrendous genocide in history. Humans are complex beings. There is a great deal more to us than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring; we love and we despise.
Deep within the fear and panic of the Holocaust were decisions about ethical behavior and our concept of morality. Unlike animals, humans are governed by principles, beliefs and values. We are not clouded by delusions of morality, but governed by them. In my novel, characters explore the human response to terror and morality, as well as the alluring beauty of passionate young love and the driving power of religious devotion. Our lives are complex – even within the garish midst of the Holocaust. Powerful passion and tender love also existed during times of horror and despair. So did a deep commitment to our relationship with faith and God. These powerful motivators churned within the consciousness of Holocaust victims, creating powerful new relationships and inspiring virtuous behavior. Yet, the world is seldom seen in black and white, or shades of gray – even during the Holocaust. In the midst of terrible anguish, beauty exists. Within beauty, despair can exist.
Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Holocaust must reveal torturous brutality and death. It’s fair to say that Holocaust survivors lost most or all of their loved ones. However, despite the starvation, forced labor, inhuman conditions, sickness and brutality, the incarcerated Jews of Europe continued to practice their religion, teach their children and love one another. Here, among the ashes of vast genocide, one can feel hope for the survival of the human spirit.
No human emotion is more powerful than guilt. We are forever tortured by our past and guilt is the primary motivator in our decisions about the future. We can ignore it or learn from it, but we can never escape from it. The guilt of surviving when their loved-ones perished weighs heavily on the minds of Holocaust survivors. They will never escape its grasp. But, they can learn how to live with it.
During the Holocaust, individuals were faced with the most perfidious forces. Deceit, brutality, cruelty, sickness, starvation and the death of loved-ones were the daily companions of Holocaust victims. Memories about this time are dark and precarious. Yet, in the midst of this despair, there was life, love, passion, desire, religious fervor and the excitement known only to children. Even in such hopeless desolation, there was love of God, infatuation, romance and passion and longing for all of the things that humans crave. In this sense, Holocaust victims embellished the widest range of human attributes. Such was the complex state of being in a Nazi ghetto, concentration camp or death camp.
My novel, Jacob’s Courage, describes the Holocaust through the eyes of a normal Jewish family. If we speak only of heroic individuals battling against dark forces, then we dismiss the truth of our nature. Humans are far more complex than such generic characters imply. Not all Jews imprisoned and tortured by Nazi Germany were good. Some became “kapos,” more ruthless than the SS. Not all Germans were bad. Some Germans were riddled with guilt and some expressed tender compassion for the imprisoned Jews. Yet, below the surface of brutality, we find the human instinct for life, liberty, love and compassion.
Most of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps comprehended that they would not survive. Yet, within the ghettos, the incarcerated Jews maintained commerce, prayer, schools, and sometimes even orchestras. They had civic leaders, medical clinics and religious celebrations. Hidden from the SS, the Jews observed all of the covenants and rituals of Judaism, including holidays, marriage ceremonies, burials and circumcisions. Along the terrifying path to the gas chambers of Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews lived, loved, learned and died. Yet, somehow, many of the Jews of Nazi ghettos and concentration camps fabricated a “normal” life for their progeny. Despite their impending mortality, they created a normal world on the inside to protect children from the raging genocide on the outside. Such was the nature of their love. But there was more at stake than parental affection. They recognized that Judaism cannot survive without Jewish children.
The human spirit strives for autonomy and freedom. Yet, if one is to search for an understanding of human nature, then one must descend into the depths of depravity and terror. We cannot understand humanity without comprehending its wicked flaws. Deep within the darkest recesses of brutal genocide, we discover a faint flicker of light representing love, passion, desire, hope and reverence. Here is the essence of humanity; an examination of morality, love and righteousness, in the midst of the dark whirlwind of malevolence.
Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage
Charles S. Weinblatt was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1952. He is a retired University of Toledo administrator. Weinblatt is the author of “Jacob’s Courage” and “Job Seeking Skills for Students.” His biography appears in the Marquis Who’s Who in America. Weinblatt writes novels, short stories and articles. He lives in Ohio.