Historical me – Authority

I have an issue with authority – not that I mind when someone tells me what to do. What I mind is being told what to do and being expected to blindly follow those orders. I always ask questions when I don’t understand the reason for why I should do something (and I have gotten into trouble for it a few times) but I could never just do something because I was told to. I need to understand. Because if I don’t agree with it and believe it to be wrong, I want to have the option of saying so and the option of not doing it. The most terrible thing for me would be to do something wrong because I failed to have the courage to ask the question. To me it’s quite obvious where I get this from.

First of all: My grandfather.

Well, step-grandfather; you will find that there are three grandfathers in my family and this is the one I am not related to by blood. Let’s call him James. I grew up with his stories of what it was like to serve in the military during the war. It is often said in my family that he spent more time in prison and wounded than actually fighting and I have to say, I kind of think it might be true. He volunteered at the very beginning of the war (to me he said it was the most stupid thing he ever did) and somehow ended up in Paris where he started an affair with a woman who was black. I don’t know if you know but it was a crime to have “interracial relations” under Hitler and when James was found out, he was lucky to not be send to prison or to a Camp but “only” to be moved to the Eastern front. It wasn’t an easy way out, the Eastern front was known for being the most terrible of them all. The first day he joined up with his new unit, the Sergeant who was getting to know everyone asked where they were from. When it was James’ turn he said that he was from Cologne. Cologne is the West of Germany and quite close to the French border and as the French weren’t exactly liked very much at the time (you know, WWI and the reparations and… other stupid stuff) his segeant who apparently liked putting people into their rightful place, said: “Oh, so you’re a Half-Frenchie!” I am sure if my grandfather had just nodded and smiled, nothing more would have come from it, but my grandfather being who he was instead answered back (which is never a good idea to do to your superior in the military but in this situation was particularly – unintelligent). “If I am half French,” said my grandfather and gave back ass good as he got to the sergeant who was from the East of Germany (the part that’s now Poland) “You are a Polack” He spent his fiorst three weeks in the new unit in custody for insubordination.

Soldiers of the 1st SS Panzer Division near Kh...

Soldiers of the 1st SS Panzer Division near Kharkov, February 1943 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second of all: My country’s history.

Early on it was established in my mind that if people hadn’t been such good Germans as in that they did as they were told, Hitler and the Nazis would have had a much more difficult time trying to get to power and then abusing that power.Adolf Eichmann, the coordinator of transporting people to the concentration camps,  is, for me, one of the most despicable people in all of history and not because he believed in what he did (which I am sure he did) but because in the end it was a problem for him and in the end all he cared about was solving that problem. I don’t think he ever really thought about what he was doing. He was indifferent to that, the important thing was that he was given an order and, as a good bureaucrat, he made it happen. Indifference is a terrible thing and not questioning your superiors is another. Today, there is a clause in the rule book for German soldiers in that if they believe an order goes against the constitution they don’t have to follow it. That’s as it should be.

Thirdly: My mother.

My mother was undoubtedly influenced by all of the above and her example of thinking for herself, coming to her own conclusions and questioning everything helped me to become who I am today. Thanks Mom.

Interestingly, I learned from the other side of the family, that quiet opposition is possible, too. When everyone around them was becoming a member of the Nazi party, my great-grandfather refused, despite the threat to his teaching job, and while he did send all of his children to the Hitler Youth and the Federation of German Girls, he taught them at home that not everything they were told was necessarily true and to treat everything with caution. He taught my grandmother to question authority and he managed  to keep his family as safe as possible. Quite the feat at the time.

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Filed under Ethics, Family, History

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