I've always been intrigued with history, particularly American History. And I'm not sure why, probably because it affected a generation that is still alive to talk about it, but WWII is absolutely fascinating to me.
I've often wondered what the world would be like today if the Germans had won. Or what the global population would be if the war hadn't ended all those lives. Not to mention the obliteration of the majority of Poland's Jewish population.
Strangely enough, I didn't really start getting into it until after college graduation. In fact, I can remember the exact moment I started taking time to learn about it on my own. It was one of my first assignments as a reporter, and I had to interview veterans for a Veterans Day story. Instead of focusing on any one person in particular, I opted to sit around at the local VFW for an afternoon, listening in on people's conversations and asking the men questions about the things they experienced.
It was an eye-opening afternoon. Some jumped at the change to regale a new audience with their old stories. Others refused to even talk about it, the pain still visible in their eyes.
I left realizing that I hadn't ever asked my own grandfathers about their experience at war and it shamed me. Because neither are around anymore to talk about it.
There are snippets of conversations that I remember. I know my dad's dad was on the front lines, but I don't even know what combat group he was with. And I vaguely remember him telling me that his entire platoon died when their tank rolled over. I guess my grandpa had gotten an assignment transfer just days earlier. My mom's dad was a reporter. I'm not exactly sure to what capacity, but I'm pretty sure he was embedded. My brother got his war trunk and all his memorabilia when he died -- to which I was insanely jealous.
Ever since that afternoon at the VFW, I've paid closer attention to our war veterans. Part of my job includes proofing my paper's obituaries, and it always saddens me to see another WWII vet gone, taking a major part of our history with them.
So when Jerry and I were walking through our local video rental store recently, checking out the new releases and realizing that nothing really jumped out at us, I started going up and down the alphabetical aisles in hopes of spotting an oldie but goodie that I'd always had good intentions of seeing.
Then I found "Schlinder's List." Jerry hadn't seen it either, so we rented it.
It took a few days to get around to watching it, which wasn't a problem because we had it for a week, but now it haunts me. Every time I become emotionally involved in a real-life story like that, it seems to take a few days to recover. I dream about what it must've been like to live in a concentration camp, never knowing if tomorrow will be your last day. To be persecuted solely because of your beliefs. Beliefs you were born into.
One line in the movie stood out in particular. The title character Oskar Shindler says, "War brings out the very worst in people, never the best."
Even if that is the case, I absolutely can't comprehend how that many people were convinced that the Jewish people were an inferior population. That they were somehow less than human and that killing them was not only acceptable, but the right thing to do.
I guess at the core, people are weak. All it takes is a strong leader to give them a goal and a purpose. Even if that purpose is pure evil.
And real stories like that, stories of survival despite the worst kind of adversity ... well, stories like that humble me.
Thinking about all of this woke me up for the second night in a row. Maybe now that I've gotten it out I'll be able to sleep.