Middle East Morass
"Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves," wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer while awaiting execution in a Nazi prison. "We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer."
I read Bonhoeffer while touring the three tiny Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. As I was exploring country roads and cobblestone streets, hostilities broke out between Israel and Hezbollah, giving me much opportunity to practice Bonhoeffer's principle on how to regard people.
Israel. You cannot understand the Israeli mindset unless you visit a scene from the Holocaust: Auschwitz, Dachau, or perhaps the Paneriai forest on the outskirts of Lithuania's capital. There, Nazis converted storage pits designed for oil tanks into open graves. As trains full of Lithuania's Jews arrived daily at the tiny Paneriai station, ss guards marched the Jews to the pits and systematically shot them. The practice continued for two years, and corpse burners reduced the bodies to bones and ashes to make room for more bodies. At least 70,000 Jews perished in the pits.
I visited Paneriai on a cloudless summer day. Located amid a pine forest, its dark green background was interrupted by an occasional white birch tree. Although butterflies flitted among the wildflowers, the forest seemed oddly void of birds, as if nature itself recognized a place of haunting. I walked from pit to pit, each labeled with the exact number of people massacred: 7,898 here, 5,423 there. In a small museum, the recovered diaries of neighbors report matter-of-factly how many trains arrived each day, how many died, how long the shooting lasted. Blood had seeped into the ground I walked on; human ...
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