Remembering the autocracies of war on Pearl Harbor Day … The other day, I upgraded my “something-something Samsung” to an iPhone 6Plus. It took about an hour for the transformation to be processed and completed — an hour wasted, or so I thought. During that time, I stood next to an older gentleman who was also upgrading his phone.
We exchanged hellos and I watched as he explained to the young man behind the counter what he wanted. I noticed his stoop. His higher than necessary trousers. His ironed shirt. His perfectly combed thinning silver hair. His yellowed teeth. And his smile when he spoke. And I thought how interesting it was that this man who had to be in his eighties was here for an iPhone when I can’t even get my sixty year old father to use a flip phone. I wondered if he had worked in technology his whole life.
And then.I overheard him ask the young man behind the counter.
“Do you know who Dr. Mengele was?”
Sadly, the young man did not. But I knew. I knew who the Dr. of Death was. Of course I knew.
The man doing the asking shook his head slightly and caught my eye. And then, as if some unspoken understanding had transpired between us, he reached into his pocket, took an ID card from his wallet and handed it to me. I turned it from front to back and felt a surge of sickness churn in my gut when I saw the swastika next to a picture of a young Army Corporal — one of ours. Instantly I understood. It was his POW card from Nazi Germany.
He introduced himself and said he was on his way to his regiment’s reunion. He then went on to tell me how they had liberated more captives from the camps than any other battalion during World War II … and then he mentioned Dr. Mengele again. And he spoke of a woman he knew, Eva Kor, and said,
“She’s one of the surviving twins.”
He told me that she lived a mere hour away from Indianapolis. He said I should visit her sometime. And then, just as casually as our conversation had begun, it ended. He took his new phone, left the store, drove away and I stood dumbfounded by what had just taken place.
Later, at home, on my iPhone, I Googled his name. Googled Eva Kor. Googled all sorts of topics related to the War, POW’s, Dr. Mengele … and I saw pictures of the man I had met earlier, of Ms. Kor, of her murdered twin, and dozens of young children that were led into Hell by the evil Mengele. And I discovered the poster above with the translated caption, “60,000 Reichmarks is what this person suffering from a hereditary disease costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Comrade, that is your money too.”
SEPTEMBER 1, 1938. Adolf Hitler signed an order to begin the systematic euthanasia of mentally ill and disabled people and had those posters strung throughout Germany. When I read things like this I am sickened by the images my brain conjures and by the knowledge that mankind can be so ruthless. But when I meet people like the man I did earlier, I am thankful that they are here and that they serve as a constant reminder that the visions in my mind are not merely likenesses but that they are real. That this was all real.
That hell in its worst reference has existed here on Earth.
And that, unfortunately, is something we should all be more cognoscente of. So next time you are in an Apple store or The Piggly Wiggly, remember that those around you are part of this human race for a reason … and that maybe, just maybe, one of them has a history so profound that you would instantly want to thank God for every breath you have.