Last night I couldn’t sleep. Yesterday it was hard to teach. I sat stewing, angry with myself for letting it get to me. I was angry with myself for letting someone’s opinion of me (someone I don’t even know) push me to this point of angst.
I dubbed last week “Planning for Hitler.” I was deeply embroiled in planning lessons on the weaknesses of the Weimar, how international entanglements put Germany’s economy at risk, and why 37% of a population would vote for a man whose name is now synonymous with evil. I was doing my best to create classroom activities that helped students to not blame but to see life as it was back then.
This is a subject I have taught before, but as with any class I teach, the students always challenge me in what I know and understand about a subject. Students share their own family stories, their disbelief, their naiveté, and their sometimes silly and simplistic comparisons as they struggle to make sense of it all.
I try to model for my students life long learning. And when they ask a question that I don’t have answers to, I challenge them to find the answer. I challenge myself to use those resources I trust to find the answers as well. Then we come back to class and share what we have discovered about that question or dilemma.
This week I heard a new question. “Did any Jews vote for Hitler?” Wow. I was speechless. Great question. I could have made assumptions. I could have spewed out hearsay but instead I tried to find the answer. I scoured statistics on the Internet. I skimmed through doctoral theses. I found nothing. So I went to a source of information that I trusted, an acquaintance that helps run a Holocaust education center back in the states. She also was intrigued by the question however could offer me no answers. So she sent my question along to a person who she believed to be an expert on the subject of Nazi Germany.
The response from the expert was then forwarded back to me. I don’t think it was intended for me to read. Instead of a being offered voter statistics from 1932, I was offered a lesson on how to teach this delicate subject as well as a critique of what I seemed to be teaching. It called me “careless” and said I made “poor attempts”. It placed judgment on my abilities as a teacher but begged me not to judge the German people for being bystanders to the crime. It showed no regard for my background, my life experiences, or my experience as a teacher.
As I read through the expert’s response I became more and more angry. Then I thought…”well I’m gonna give this so called EXPERT a piece of my mind!” I began to frantically type out my retort. I was going to teach this teacher to show some respect. Then a recent conversation came to mind. “Fighting on the Internet is like…”
I deleted my reply. I decided that writing a letter to this person would do me no good. And who cares about this guy anyway? I will never meet him. I will never speak to him. I don’t know him and he obviously, from his response, does not know me. But then I caved to my ego. I wrote a response. I stated that “You probably didn’t mean to insult me but…” I listed my qualifications, my family background, and my life experiences. I tried to show him that he had misjudged my character and my abilities. And then I thanked him for his “expert” response.
I sent the email and immediately regretted it. I felt sick about it. I lay awake rewriting my response in my head with more and more excellent examples. I should have talked about Eva and how she had to walk over charred bodies to escape the burning city in 1943. I should have talked about my experiences at Wansee and how I prayed I would not recognize any faces in the pictures I saw before me. I kept reminding myself that arguing with someone you don’t know and will never meet is just plain stupid. I tried to calm myself with “Who cares about this person? Don’t be bothered by it. Don’t let it get to you.” But it bothered me; it got to me.
And isn’t this where I began my week? Trying to get my students to not pass judgment on a group of people who voted for and supported a man who perpetrated one of the most heinous crimes in history. Weakness, judgment, reputation, ego, mistakes, misunderstanding, misinterpretations, assumptions, allies, enemies. These are the things that start and sustain wars. These are things that are so much a part of our humanness, regardless of the time in which we have lived. Yet these are the things that are at the root of so many crimes against humanity.
The expert wrote me an apology, sort of. “If I would have known you were going to read my response, I would have worded things differently in a few places.” The judgment is still there, just worded differently.
Have you ever been successful in arguing with someone on the Internet? Have you ever been so bold as to not respond?
Other posts I have written on the issues of teaching the Holocaust and Nazi Germany: