If you spend a few minutes thinking about it, you have probably known a person or persons in your life who were purely good. My mom was one of those. I also remember an English teacher, colleague, and several family members who have left me with memories of only positive personalities and actions.

Now think of someone who was pure evil. Again, I can conjure a co-worker, a boss, a friend who turned out to be toxic, and several others who seemed to have dedicated their lives to dispensing ugly thoughts and deeds. What is the point of all of this, you ask?

My most recent revelation concerns some information I just secured from my current reading material. The author refers to the Kapos and Sonderkommandos in World War II, Jews who were responsible for directing the activities and/or deaths in of fellow Jews in ghettos and concentration camps. In many cases, these were ruthless and cruel people who indulged in much the same torture and brutality that was conducted by their Nazi counterparts. The author goes on to say that while these Kapos and Sonderkommandos did what they were told in order to survive, there is a very fine line between doing your job under duress and enjoying the power, however fleeting.

It all causes me to wonder about the capacity all of us have for both good and bad. It also drives home the point that when we speak of 6 million Jews, we unintentionally forget that each one was an individual life. Each one had family members, pasts and presents, hopes for the future, and accomplishments that they had accumulated. When we lump victims into groups (Kapos, Sonderkommandos, inmates, survivors, escapees, protestors, etc.,) we are incapable of seeing them as the women, men, and children that they were.

Some were good while some were pure evil. But the majority were a combination of everything human, such as kindness, generosity, sacrifice, and the litany of adjectives that could be correctly applied to the lost and those who survived the Holocaust. For my part, I am in awe of those who managed to escape and have told their heartbreaking stories. Each time I do, I remain touched by the memories of those whose lives ended never telling us who they were and what they wanted to be. Shalom.

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