Saturday, January 14, 2012

Raised in a German household, pt. 3

One of the things I learned on this journey of reading, watching documentaries, and listening to survivor interviews was that people who were Jewish were not the only targets of Nazi aggression. Gypsies were also rounded up and sent to work camps or killed, along with political prisoners (anyone who spoke out or acted against the Reich), people who were deaf, homosexual, physically or mentally disabled, or mentally ill. This first happened to German citizens inside their own country, all part of the horrific Nazi push toward 'racial purity.' The violence escalated as the Wehrmacht pushed into other countries - those citizens were considered lesser humans too, just on the basis of nationality. But it all started with that single concept: 'The only people worth anything are the ones just like me.'

Here in 21st century America, we know better. We teach cultural diversity, we practice religious and ethnic tolerance, we have laws that uphold the rights of all people, regardless of persuasion or ability. Right? Not so fast.

This week, I met with a highly educated woman who expressed this concern (paraphrased): "My son rides the school bus with those children in wheelchairs. I don't want him to catch anything from their germs, because their germs are different than his."

I don't want to minimize the experiences of victims of the Nazis by comparing them to a transportation request, but to me, the attitude is all too familiar. Intolerance is intolerance, like the crazy culture of George Orwell's Animal Farm, where one of the laws posted reads: "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

So intolerance and prejudice are alive and well in America. I personally believe that prejudice against the disabled tops the list.

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