Guilt in the Age of Obama:
Considering "The Reader"
My friend Ivo Adam Attis, (an Italian Jew born in Alexandria, Egypt who now lives in Palo Alto) and I recently went to west San Jose's Santana Row CineArts theater to see "The Reader" (2008); in it, Kate Winslett plays a Nazi-era working-class Berliner whose 'moral idiocy' leads her take a job as an Auschwitz guard after one at a Siemens plant. For her, Auschwitz is just a better-paying job.
Her second tragic flaw is that once on trial, she's too simple-minded to not admit that it was a voluntary choice (thus condemning herself), and disguising that she was illiterate (finally only learning to read while in prison.)
The more I tell you about her may only complicate your (possible) sympathy for her, but I believe that the only commensurate (forget just) penalty for her cohort of 6 female guards is death for having willingly 'selected' women and children for gassing, but that isn't the sentence pronounced. Instead, she gets life (serving only 20 yrs; see next par.) and the others each get 4.5 years by claiming "she was in charge" (She wasn't, but can't admit her illiteracy - which could prove that she wasn’t capable of being in charge, bureaucratically.)
After 20 years in prison, she hangs herself there. Dramatizing her life as a tragedy only diminishes the tragic deaths of her victims, so all we are left with is her dramatically predictable suicide. When the film ended, Ivo left, furious that it appeared to even allow her any degree of sympathy.
When will we all be ready to be responsible for the gradations of injustice we've committed in order to do our jobs? Did we perform them just to live or only to survive? Or do we believe we’re all trapped in History’s inescapable web?
If and when we finally do realize our guilt, when and what justice will we administer to ourselves as both victims and victimizers? Which wrist will we slash first?
(Santa Clara CA)