By Ivan Misiura | Short Story
“Grab them all!” shouted the SS lieutenant. “Against the wall!”
The Jews were lined up one by one against the remnant of an old, brick wall stumbling one over the other. Scared and shaking, the Jewish mothers and children faced the soldiers with fear and tears filling their eyes; The men, in panicked disbelief, begged for mercy. “Please don’t do this!” shouted one. “Stop this; in the name of God, stop this!” pleaded another with a young SS soldier, but to no avail.
The young soldier didn’t know how to feel as he followed orders. He knew the Jews were responsible for the downfall of Germany and its economic devastation, but he didn’t know how. It was just a common axiom. He lined up the Jews, using surprising force to keep them afoot. Even the most inert of the group could not withstand the austere solder.
“Siegfried!” called the lieutenant. “This is your first raid, ja?”
“Yes, sir!” replied Siegfried.
“Pull your weapon!”
Apprehensively, Siegfried obeyed.
“I want you to have the first kill of the batch!” stated the lieutenant. After the Jews were properly lined up, he gave the order.
Siegfried was terrified; he had never taken a life before. Of course, he knew it to be a possibility, but what was he to do?
“Serve your country”, he was told it was the ‘right thing to do’. He had always believed that, and still did… right? Siegfried had been raised in a good home and taught to obey authority. He was vexed.
Like a flood, his father’s wisdom rushed back to him. “Siegfried, your duty as a German is to serve. Do not be selfish with yourself and always obey the authority God placed above you. They are there for a reason, and your job is to obey.”
Moreover, in his home, nationalism was of the utmost importance. So naturally, when Chancellor Adolf Hitler came on the ballot in 1934, Siegfried and his family were part of his biggest support.
Siegfried had always wanted to become an SS soldier and had, just the year prior, become bonafide. But Siegfried had this nagging feeling he could not shake… a feeling of abhorrent guilt. He did not want to kill these people. Human beings, he did not buy the lies being sold to him through propaganda, dehumanizing the Jew. But, if he didn’t buy that, then why buy any of it? How did the Jews ruin their once great country, and as extension, economy? He had believed that it was the loss of the Great War that had done so until President Hitler had set the nation straight. But why should he believe him? He presented no new evidence. He merely gave the nation an enemy, a scapegoat. A book filled cover to cover with demagoguery.
Siegfried had suddenly remembered what his father had told him before he left for the SS.
“Son, when you go, there is no coming back as a coward. You are not yourself, but an extension of the greater good. Your thoughts are not your thoughts, but that of our nation’s. Your actions are not your actions, and God will forgive you. Do not disgrace your family and nation by disobeying.”
But how was he to reconcile that? He felt it wrong to take an innocent life but he was being ordered to do so. His mother’s voice popped into his head.
“We obey because it is the right thing to do”
But was it? Is morality really derived from authority? Am I just a piece of machinery? He asked himself. Or am I responsible for what actions I take?
Outside of the present situation, Siegfried was a very peaceful individual. It was not until his individuality had been stripped away, that he was capable of doing such a thing as to take another human beings life. Siegfried realized this was the first time he had ever questioned authority, and the result, to say the least, was eye-opening.
This, you see, was the dilemma. Does he listen and obey, therefore honoring his family, authority, and nation? Or does he disobey, following what he believes is right, that is, of course, preserving human life, therefore dishonoring his parents, authority, and nation? He asked himself the consequences of each.
If he chose to obey he would be honored for doing so, revered as a hero serving his country and making his parents proud by doing the “right thing”, and yet he would have to live with the knowledge and guilt of his actions. Conversely, if he disobeyed, he would almost certainly be shot; his family heartbroken over a coward of a son who disgraced his nation and disobeyed his authority, therefore, doing the wrong thing.
Then it hit him, an epiphany surely to be his last. He asked the questions: is morality derived from authority? He pondered the contradictions if this were the case, that morality would not only have to be fluid, but arbitrary, a mere construct devised out of the minds of rulers. He could not bring himself to believe this.
Or is morality independent of man? If it is not a construct from the ruler of man, can it be of any man? Can one man conjure up his own morality and pass judgment or take action on another?
Can there be a morality of nature? If morality is not fluid and is not an arbitrary construct of man, then where is it derived? Might it be from nature itself? Do the animals not follow some rudimentary governance of instinct? Should we not also, as higher beings of reason, be bound by a similar code of conduct?
A law of nature trumping that of man? Following his train of thought to its logical end, he concluded that, if this morality is objective, it must supersede any arbitrary dictation of man.
His answer to these premises, although not fully understood, was a resounding yes. He heard it again.
It was the lieutenant. With ever more ferocity than before.
Siegfried snapped back to reality, realizing all his contemplation had taken place in an instant. He had a decision to make. He paused, and then with a shaking voice responded:
The lieutenant was taken back. He knew of Siegfried’s family and their strong support for the military. He was aware that Siegfried had greatly desired to join this elite force, and that strings had to be pulled to get him to the top of the list. Hoping to talk sense to the young man, he reinforced his order.
“I am your superior and you will obey me!”
“It’s not right sir, I will not take the life of an innocent!”
“You are no better than the filthy Jew! And so you will be shot like one!”
He turned to the nearest soldier. “Line him up with the rest!”, he commanded.
The young Siegfried was taken by the arms by his compatriots and lined up. He did not yell or struggle. He accepted his fate and firmly believed in his stand. They were acting like Animals, monsters even, and so was he. No more, he thought to himself. I will die, but I will die human.