Wednesday 15 July 2015

The corrosive dangers of victimhood

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that putting a 94-year-old in prison for four years leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.  Perhaps you deserve it if you were the so-called 'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz', as Oskar Groening was, but this isn't to do with who deserves what - it is about the dignity of the judicial system.

I'm not of course arguing that there should be a statute of limitations on crimes against humanity, or on sexual predators in the BBC in the 1960s come to that. Just that prosecuting at that distance means you don't catch the worst offenders - just the minor offenders who happen to stay alive.

For Germany to send a 94-year-old to prison is to extract the pound of flesh in a way that brings these issues into disrepute.

But at least I was able to hear again the inspiring interview with the Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor, who not just forgave Groening but embraced him, and demonstrated the power of letting victimhood go:

"I am a victorious human being, who has been able to rise above the pain, forgive the Nazis; not because they deserve it but because I deserve it."It reminds me how damaging it is for people to hold too closely to their own victimhood. It isn't that a great wrong was not done to them - as Auschwitz survivors or child abuse victims. It was. It isn't that these crimes should not be investigated or the perpetrators brought to some kind of justice. They should be. But doing so for too long sometimes allows the victims to stay victims - and that can just close down their lives, and reduce them to nothing but victims.

Sometimes the appearance in court can help them release this status and it is important that they have it. Sometimes it will be the vindication that allows them to let go. But the systems should not give people an excuse to fail to break from the past, to do what they were born to do, to love wholeheartedly - and to keep making the effort to do so.

None of that suggests that they are not held back by the original crime.  They are.  Or that it is easy to escape it. But Eva Kor seems to me to have articulated why we have to help people escape if they can - because the key to life is to be a "victorious human being".

I'm just not sure that civilised societies pursue people into the mid-nineties.

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