“All Gifts Can Be Used For Good or Evil”
by Jessica Graells
It was a Saturday morning, the sun was creeping through my window until a ray of sunshine decided to make contact with my face and interrupt my sleep. The day had begun and my memories went back to the moment I started reading the first five pages of “A Hebraic Obsession”. My body experienced the emotions portrayed in the written words that detailed Doctor Laitner’s concentration camp experience, my stomach tightened, tears started to form in the back of my eyes and suddenly my skin was filled with goosebumps. At that moment I knew I had to finish this story.
As I descended the stairs I made the decision to eat a complete breakfast and have the rightful energy to concentrate on my new readings. I prepared myself two scrambled eggs with just a pinch of salt, some bacon and a lightly toasted loaf of bread that would make the perfect companion to my mother’s delicious homemade guava marmalade. While enjoying this delectable breakfast, I get a glimpse of the book sitting on top of my dining table and without realizing it, the man in the cover picture of the book was looking back at me. He made me comprehend that not only this is a real life story, but it is a story where one of the characters I now personally know.
After clearing the table, I grabbed a cup of Café con Leche and together with the book I walked outside into my backyard terrace where I found the perfect spot under the shade of some palm trees. Making myself comfortable in my white chair, I gazed at the horizon and saw little kids practicing their required Saturday Soccer exercise all around the bright green park. Once settled, I then started my journey into the book.
As the kids across the street of my house where screaming at each other to pass the ball, I was reading how Mort was questioning himself through the sounds of the ram’s horns at the end of the service. Each and every question that came up into his head brought a feeling of guilt and a reasoning of why he should not approach his father regarding his experience in Nazi Germany. This is what Immanuel Kant would have labeled as the Golden Rule or the Categorical Imperative: Do not do to others what you would not have them do unto you. Each sound acted as a reminder of what his father had gone through and the pain it would have caused him to revive this history. How many deaths were witnessed, how many days of suffering, how much damage caused. Making the decision to follow the basics of the golden rule, Mort would not cause pain to his father just as he would not like to suffer if he were the one owning the story.
The book consumed my attention. I was immersed in all the details and information gathered from each page. But when I reached chapter nine, the eulogy, I experienced emotions that I did not know how to react to. As I was becoming part of the romance between Eva and Mort, a sense of uneasiness darted through my mind. As the moment was becoming more intense, I realized I knew this individual and did not know how to react to the powerful message and well descriptive words going into my brain. Would I be able to see this professor the same way? Or would I understand the artistic components of a writer? While this process was going through my head, I thought how Immanuel Kant would catalog this encounter. He would announce that a duty-based ethics situation was developing in which Mort had a duty to act ethically. At the moment he compared himself with his father, he knew he had the duty to make the ethical decision of not coveting his neighbor’s wife and respecting his family. Looking at the event as an outsider, Kant would also consider this as the Golden Rule, where Mort gave value to his family and acted how he would like his wife to act in this same situation.
I always knew the basics of World War II but how could I have missed all the details that form part of this history? Reflecting on Kant’s philosophy of all gifts can be used for good or evil, chapter eleven’s description of Mein Kampf shows Hitler’s remarkable gift which incorporated the power of conviction and self-assurance. His intelligence and wealth, instead of being used for the greater good of the humanity, became an instrument for the greatest genocide in history. Adding to this philosophy of all things can be used for good or evil, Henry Ford contributed to the hatred movement for Jews by distributing his ideals in every car that was sold. As I was reading this section of the book, my mind wondered why I had never heard this story before, a sense of confusion and deceit came over me as I was reading through the chapter. The picture of the inspiring figure in the business world, Henry Ford, started to crumble in front me.
As some stories start to develop in the book, it is seen that many times Doctor Laitner applied Kant’s theory of absolute value, all human beings have worth. One major instance described in the book is when the two men narrated their story of how they were saved from death in the concentration camp. Faith and hope were kept afloat through a small deed of nightly storytelling by Doctor Laitner.
Kristallnacht was a powerful consequential story that brought emotions of sadness and desperation as the story developed. Herschel Grynszpan was unsuccessful in promoting Kant’s universal law of basing the actions on good will. As he was failing to acknowledge absolute value when taking the life away of a German diplomat, he wanted to promote the same message that all humans including Jews had a value. Unfortunately the actions did not achieve a positive outcome.
On this weekend getaway in Fort Myers I experienced an amazing sunset. The gulf coast tide was low and the exposed sand was covered with a very thin layer of water. As the sun started it’s descend the sky began its color transformation that looked like a painter’s palette in the making of the ultimate artwork. The mixtures of blues, pinks, oranges and reds reflected in the wet sand, and as I was walking along the shoreline I was sure I was inside a painting of heaven. At the same time as I was floating through the clouds mirrored in the sand I was remembering the story of Alexander in the Sobibor death camp. After having the courage of confronting the SS soldiers, what hope could have been left in the 170 prisoners that were recaptured? Their new leader that gave them a small taste of freedom took it away when abandoning them. As Alexander deserted his fellow inmates he failed to recognize the value of each human being and hence did not follow Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, however in his mind the correct choice was to fight for his country and go back to his army, he followed his duty. As the last sun rays were hiding in Fort Myer’s horizon, the expanding darkness represented the consequences of Alexander’s decision when Sobibor camp was shut down.
An incredible story shows several of Immanuel Kant’s philosophies. Goodwill is when someone acts with good intentions without expecting to receive anything. Doctor Laitner risked his life many times when he was part of the Organisation Schmelt. As he was hiding prisoners that had contracted typhus to avoid the execution by German Officials he not only valued each individual’s life but he acted with goodwill for every Jew even thought their fate was irreversible. Doctor Laitner could have chosen the path of exposing the epidemic virus and avoiding the hard labor of trying to cure them without any medicine, however Immanuel Kant would say that he showed a duty-based ethics by protecting the most needed.
Physicians are blessed with the gift of saving lives and many individuals are forever thankful, however Kant’s philosophy shows that every gift can be used for good or evil. In the book we see this philosophy coming to life when Nazi doctors decide to experiment on Jewish individuals. They reject Kant’s absolute value when performing genetic experiments on twins by sewing them and injecting liquids into their eyes. In contrast, Dr. Laitner used this gift for good when attending to every individual that he could, from saving a woman’s life by hiding her from a Nazi doctor, all the way to promoting hope and faith.
As the sun headed on its daily trip to the other side of the world and the night was slowly creeping in; I began reading the last pages of “Hebraic Obsession” to finally find the missing pieces of the puzzle that was being assembled throughout the story. When I closed the book, I found myself absorbed in Dr. Laitner’s gaze from the cover of the book as his eyes crept through the window of my soul.