Historians have noticed that when Germans are asked about the uncomfortable issue of the Holocaust, many quickly bring up the war. ‘The Jewish war,’ as some Germans described it is remembered as a disaster for the German people as victims. The bombings stood out as the German civilian war experience. This is not the place to analyze how their self-image as victims might have alleviated German responsibility, embarrassment, or guilt regarding the genocide, nor how much serious damage was actually wrought. Kaplan, Marion A. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life In Nazi Germany

I have reflected elsewhere on my own experiences as a child being introduced to the mysterious forbidden world of sexuality by predatory grown up men. (“Truth Telling” April 13, 2010) I might well be described as a “victim” of these adults who abused their position of privilege and power in my life. I have no doubt that I suffered a complex emotional wounding from these experiences in my pre-teen years.

But, as I think about those adult males in my past who took advantage of the positions entrusted to them, I have no doubt that they acted out of the wounds, brokenness and unresolved hurts of their own early experiences of childhood and youth. No doubt the same could be said for those who perpetrated monstrous violence against the Jews in Europe and presumably even Hitler himself.

The risk with self-designating as a victim is that I create an identity out of my victimhood and thus relieve myself of responsibility for the choices I make in my life. If I choose to identify myself as a victim there is a risk that I render myself powerless to do whatever small things in my life I might be capable of doing to improve my circumstances.

If the horror of Nazi death camps demonstrates anything, it surely shows that in the midst of the most inhumane conditions imaginable, it remains possible for human beings to choose nobility and humanity rather than sinking to the level of their abusers. Of course it is utterly naive and arrogant to assume I can predict how I would react under the terrible circumstances faced by those who suffered the atrocious violence of Nazi hatred.

But Viktor Frankl who survived internment in both Theresienstadt Ghetto and Auschwitz concentration camp has written that he discovered through his experience that, “it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.” (Man’s Search For Meaning, p. 64)

Given a chance, the human spirit is capable of transcending the most despicable dehumanizing experiences. There is no force on earth that can finally deprive us of the gift of our freedom to choose how we respond to the circumstances of our lives no matter how horrific they may be. Frankl writes,

Now we were treated like complete nonentities. (The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?) 83

The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. 86

everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. 86

The greatest power on earth is not the power of bombs and dictators. The greatest power on earth resides in the human ability of inner choice. No one can take from us our capacity to choose how we respond to whatever is occuring in our lives in the present or whatever may have happened to us in the past. We can choose to see ourselves as a wounded person held hostage by unresolved bitterness, pain, and grief, or we can choose to affirm the invincible radiant reality of God’s Spirit dwelling in the depths of our being. Frankl says,

in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. 87

In the end, the only real vicitm is the one who loses touch with the ability to choose. The victim is the one who falls prey to the illusion that external circumstances are more powerful than the human freedom to make a choice in response to even the most difficult realities. Victory goes to the one who affirms that, in the midst of darkness, I can turn to the light and that light fills my being with life.