I was in grade twelve when the Amazing Race, I don't remember which season, took the contestants to a Holocaust site. I don't remember which one. When I went to school the next day, my teacher, a very unusual, but incredibly sharp woman, asked our small class if we would ever go see a Holocaust site. I'll be honest, I looked at her like she was stupid because I knew that everyone should want to go. I had this conviction then that everyone should know what happened and pay their respects to the people who lived and died within and around those walls.
I was, and can still be, very black and white in my way of thinking. Back then, as a teenager, I think it was beyond me to see the grey area and understand that her question was not in fact stupid. While I was thinking about this site as a piece of history, as marker of inhumanity and as a reminder of ordinary people's unfathomable cruelty, as some inanimate thing to be studied, she was looking at it as a grave site, a place to be shown the utmost respect. In other words, not a tourist destination.
I graduated high school in 2007. I was over 60 years removed from the Holocaust. Not only that, even if I had lived in 1945, I still would have been living a continent away, living a relatively safe existence in this same town where I am now and oddly enough, probably going to the same high school. I think my teacher's point was that we're now so removed from that time and those circumstances, that we can't understand the events that took place there. We can study them and analyze them, but at what point do we stop and admit that we just can't get it, that we won't get it?
Why am I talking about this? Well, I just read a fifty page article for my pop culture class tomorrow. It was about how concentration camps were treated in British media when they were finally liberated in 1944-45. It focused primarily on Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald. That article got me to thinking about my grade twelve teacher's question because it's relevant to where I'm at now.
On Wednesday, I'm meeting with the professor who has agreed to supervise my MA project for next year. I want to look at Nazi doctors. It's a fascinating topic and I'm pretty excited that I may get a chance to really get into it. But then I think, "at what point do I stop and admit that I just can't get it, that I won't get it?" I'm genuinely worried that I'll be asked why I'm so interested in this topic. I'm worried because I don't have an answer. I have no idea why this topic, this time period, this event interests me. I've always been that way. Is it wrong to feel fascinated? Is it wrong to be intellectually curious when you're emotionally disgusted? Is it wrong to pursue this course of study knowing that I'll never understand anything? What is it we're trying to do? Make sense of something that has never made sense?
In spite of all these questions and knowing that I'm going to be disgusted, knowing that I'm going to be mystified and horrified and knowing that I won't know what to do with the knowledge I acquire, I'm compelled to go forward. I truly don't understand why. I think I'm still attached to the idea that knowledge is a way to acknowledge.
Funny how a random, somewhat dismissively asked question posed five years ago can come back and make so much sense.