Last week, a 90-year old Holocaust survivor guided me through an exhibit on Nazi propaganda at the Holocaust Museum. Although I have visited the museum before, I was blown away by the new exhibit, which clarified that Hitler’s ideas were never based on formal education, and that he was able to become so powerful because he faced no significant resistance in his initial stages of power. In fact, he faced barely any resistance at all. When Hitler began implementing his racist ideology, he was not halted and so he simply continued, spiraling out of control.
The exhibit presented one central point that I will never forget: indifference is unacceptable. Simple acceptance of immorality is just as bad actively promoting immoral notions. Those who did not stand up to Hitler should be held somewhat accountable for their actions because they stood by passively while a monster prevailed. Most Germans, and most of the world for that matter, did not agree with what the Nazis were doing. However, because Nazi ideology did not affect a majority of Germans or the majority of foreign nations, they did not rise up together to protest Hitler’s actions during his initial stages of implementation.
In contemplating Hitler’s rise to power, I began to question my own actions. How many times have I failed to stand up to something that seemed inconsequential because it did not affect me directly? To contextualize my question globally, how often do we, members of humanity, passively accept the actions of political leaders or governments because what they say or do does not impact our lives directly? Are we all somewhat guilty of indifference in some way or another? I believe that we are.
When we consider Nazi propaganda now, it is unfathomable that such images and false information could be promoted by a government and accepted by the public. Jews were depicted as caricatured beings with large noses, beards, yamakas and stereotyped as wealthy thieves in propaganda posters. Films that grossly exaggerated racist stereotypes played in theaters in order to convince the public that Jewish people were fundamentally bad and needed to be exterminated.
But the exhibit did more than fill me with sorrow and anger. It also made me question the very notion of propaganda and the role of the media. How are images and information utilized to promote certain ideals and viewpoints? The answer is simple. In our media, information is formulated with the intention of promoting certain ideas all the time. Throughout the exhibit, I began to wonder how many times I have blindly read something and considered it to be factual and unbiased. What is more, by choosing the media sources that I deem reliable, I am often choosing a biased standpoint in order to validate my own political views.
I do not write this reflection as an attack of the media because I believe that the media provides people the unalienable right of direct access to information. The media that we know today did not exist during World War II and I believe that better access to news and information would have profoundly affected the events of the war. However, I do think that we need to be more wary of the news that we digest. We should always consider alternative viewpoints and alternative news sources in order to maintain a sort of relativity in our consideration of our world.
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