I spent the last couple of months re-reading Ian Kershaw’s Hitler biography. It was hard and I had to stop a few times. Not because the book isn’t well written – it’s a fascinating, fine-grained observation of Hitler’s life from birth to death. But a lot of the facts and circumstances Ian Kershaw describes are too depressing to stomach without a pause.
The book challenges what we, the post war generations, take for granted: That life is more or less good, that people are more or less good. That there’s hope, after all.
One of the most harrowing chapters is Germany’s invasion of Poland and the following occupation. Poland was a turning point – Germany, already a dictatorship for six years committing atrocities against humanity, turned to methodical genocide.
That genocide, as historians have shown by reference to many sources and examples, was obvious to almost everybody who was part of the invasion. The “Einsatzgruppen” killings didn’t happen in secrecy. Even ordinary policemen were part of the execution commandos.
Now, 75 years after the invasion, some people who have witnessed it first hand, are still alive – on both sides. Nonetheless, life goes on. The relations between Poland and Germany are based on reconciliation, even friendship.
Think about it for a minute.
From a Polish perspective it would have been understandable to close the borders for a century and kindly ask Germans to get lost until further notice. But they didn’t.
We’re lucky to have great neighbors like Poland.