Yesterday, on our radio show, my friend Alice and I tackled the subjects of forgiveness and witnessing. To wit: What is our responsibility as members of the human race when it comes to wrongdoing? Alice and I agreed that it is our moral responsibility to witness against wrongdoing. It is also our gift to forgive.

Laszlo Csatary, a 97-year-old man living in Hungary was recently arrested as a Nazi war criminal. He is accused of deporting Jews to concentration camps, often using a whip to drive human beings like cattle into the airless chambers that would transport them, most likely, to their deaths. Csatary is unrepentant, apparently still clinging to his ugly prejudices. He also counters his arrest by saying he was “just following orders.”

“Just following orders” didn’t fly as an excuse in Nuremburg, where the worst of WWII’s villains faced their comeuppance. That sentiment seems to have relaxed, however. I was struck by the comments following articles on Csatary’s capture. Apparently, hating people is still in fashion. Also, much sympathy was granted Csatary due to his age, the amount of time that’s passed since he committed his crimes, and the restrictions of his position: He had to do it, you see, or he himself would have been killed.

Maybe. Maybe not. He certainly didn’t have to do what he did with such alacrity. And the fact that he isn’t sorry…well, maybe times have changed, but he has not. And that’s his doing. Which all leads back to the concepts of witnessing and forgiveness. Perhaps Csatary can be forgiven. That’s up to his victims, most (if not all) of whom are in a place far better than this Earth and have a different perspective. But should he not be held accountable?

He must be held accountable. This is where witnessing comes in. People can be forgiven; situations cannot. We cannot forgive or forget the Holocaust, not one whit of it. To do so is to denigrate the experiences of its victims. It does not matter if one year or a thousand have passed. People must be held accountable for their actions.

And just by the by, anyone who hates any group of people for whatever reason, listen up. You are being witnessed too, by the ultimate witness — God. And no, I’m not letting myself off the hook. I need to do more forgiving, while keeping a witnessing eye on myself. Our worst impulses must not be ignored. Even when they can be forgiven.

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