Just up the slope towered huge dark wooden doors set in thick rock walls; my first glimpse of the place. A sense of foreboding filled me as I walked through the heavy wooden doors and into the long courtyard. Immediately to my right was the wailing wall, a stone wall studded with heavy iron rings where each newcomer, stripped of their clothing, was initiated by being chained to the wall.
As I saw the places where prisoners were abused and murdered and learned of the medical experimentation and gruesome treatment of the people sent there, I felt the crushing weight of agony and unanswered pleas for mercy.
For the next few hours I silently and painstakingly walked through each building erected by the forced labor of the original occupants of the camp called Mauthausen, a dark place of torture and death juxtaposed to the beauty of the Austrian countryside and the tranquility of the Danube. As I saw the places where prisoners were abused and murdered and learned of the medical experimentation and gruesome treatment of the people sent there, I felt the crushing weight of agony and unanswered pleas for mercy. This was the place where Jews, POW’s, and Political Enemies were sent to be worked to death and where the weak and sick were sent to be isolated until fully succumbing to their injuries and illnesses in death. Toward the end of the war prisoners from other camps were sent here as their camps were being liberated. Mauthausen was one of the last camps liberated and the conditions were so bad that many of the liberated still died from ill health in the days and weeks that followed. In less than seven years approximately 200,000 people were sent to Mauthausen, and nearly half of them died there.
It’s hard to process an experience like this. To stand in the spot where people were taken, forced to their knees and shot; to look on the table used for medical experimentation and lethal injection; to sit at the wailing wall and imagine the unfathomable fear and pain as everything you have including your name is stripped from you. How do you wrap your mind around this? How could people become so monstrously cruel on such a staggering scale? What were the seeds this culture of death grew from? How did doctors training to heal the sick so easily administer lethal injections? How did husbands and fathers go to work and release trained dogs to attack fellow human beings while they watched? How did inventors turn their creativity to constructing gas vans to asphyxiate the sick who were told they were on their way to get treatment?
The same spirit that filled the heart of their leader and others like him throughout history is still roaming freely and claiming victims, often beyond our notice, but sometimes in full view without our willingness to acknowledge.
As an American, I felt a sense of gratitude that my country was a part of the armed forces that defeated the enemy and liberated the survivors of these death camps throughout Germany and in Austria. I couldn’t help but entertain the thought that while we accomplished something so important and good and to be celebrated, the real enemy to be conquered continues to deal in death and inhumanity. The same spirit that filled the heart of their leader and others like him throughout history is still roaming freely and claiming victims, often beyond our notice, but sometimes in full view without our willingness to acknowledge.
If we understand culture as a set of common values, what were the common values that led to a society where neighbors were reported, their homes and belongings confiscated, and their families torn apart as they were forced to the camps? How did those common values come to permeate society in such a way that the magnitude of the atrocities could be so easily hidden and go on with so little internal opposition? Or was it a lack of certain values that made them so vulnerable and enabled so many to be manipulated into doing unthinkable things?
It’s so easy to judge figures from history and feel superior, so easy to think we would never embrace such values that would lead to barbaric and cruel acts. We are so enlightened these days that we care for the suffering of any creature that is not able to protect itself. Right? Or could it be that the things our culture currently values may be leading us into a similar trap as that of our historic predecessors? Are we cultivating a culture of life, or are we vulnerable to the influence of the spirit of death and inhumanity?
We can be proud that we are becoming more aware of human trafficking and that many are doing everything they can to end it both here and in other countries. Clearly the practice of selling human beings is the work of that same spirit of death and inhumanity that was at work in Mauthausen. It would be hard to find support in our communities to assist human traffickers. And being the animal lover that I am, I’m also glad that we are becoming more aware of inhumane treatment of animals and working to create laws to protect animals and see that they are not mistreated.
If the unborn being is alive, what justification is needed to rightfully terminate that life?
But are there are other victims we don’t want to think about? We say our culture values life, but do we really mean that we value the lives of some but disregard the lives of others? Where do we draw the line? Can we value life and still take the life of an animal for food? Is it right to value human life above the life of an animal? Is it okay to take one life to protect the life of another as is the case of self-defense or the defense of another. At what point do our constitutional protections extend to the unborn? If the unborn being is alive, what justification is needed to rightfully terminate that life? These questions are magnified because our nation is now home to people of many cultures and religious traditions that may impact our values around life, and particularly around human life and the innate, God-given rights attributed to each human life. Our current laws in some ways reflect our national values, and in other ways they have not kept pace with new scientific information and advances is medical treatments. The time to have these discussions and wrestle with these ideas is long overdue. It’s time for us as a nation to re-affirm and codify in law the most basic values around human life. And our values should not only consider personal beliefs but correct information from sources that have no financial or political interests to advance.
If we agree that we want to cultivate a culture of life, we must commit to setting aside the impulse to judge others and resolve to listen to ideas and challenge information. We have to ask if the information we are relying on is biased and agenda driven. Have we relied on false information that has been used to influence our position or play on our emotions? We cannot dismiss testimony from scientists and medical practitioners that may contradict our reasons of justification for permitting something as consequential as the taking of an innocent life. We have to question the positions of organizations and politicians that are enriched by allowing unrestricted abortions since their power and profits depend on their ability to continue this practice.
Today we have access to photographic and video information that should be viewed as we weigh this subject. Groups and individuals have risked much to expose the truth around the practices of some organizations and individuals that gain their livelihood from the abortion industry. Testimony from people who have worked in the industry and left because they could no longer stomach the cruel and inhumane procedures is readily available for those willing to take an honest look.
When Mauthausen was in operation, a twenty year old Spanish political prisoner named Francisco Boix was sent there. Because he could speak German, he was given an administrative job at the camp. Later it became known that he had a background in photography, so he was given the opportunity to take and process photographic documentation at the camp. Once it was clear that the Germans would lose the war, he was ordered to destroy any evidence of the crimes committed there. But he defied those orders and bravely preserved and smuggled out hundreds of incriminating images which were later used as proof to the world of the atrocities that had taken place. He also testified at the war crimes trials at Dachau where the collective conscience of the world held the perpetrators who were captured accountable for their crimes against humanity.
My heart cries out for a time when the conscience of the world will demand an end to the cruel practice of abortion. We now have scientific proof that chronicles how quickly the human heart is formed and begins to beat, when the fingerprints appear on tiny hands, and when the unborn baby can feel pain and distress. We can successfully operate on a fetus in utero. And we also have proof that the methods of abortion used are cruel and inflict great pain and distress upon the innocent life being ended. With the advances in medical treatments and diagnostics, there is virtually no circumstance where an abortion is medically necessary.
If our most basic right, the right to life, can be justifiably stripped away by those in power and we fail to protect the weakest and most vulnerable members or our society, then our future as a free nation is all but lost.
I pray that our nation finds the courage to really look at what we have culturally embraced around abortion. We create new laws regularly to protect animals while we celebrate the proliferation of laws that make abortion on demand up to and through the point of birth a protected right. Can we truthfully say we are a culture of life? Or have we surrendered to the throes of a culture ruled by the spirit of death and inhumanity? If our most basic right, the right to life, can be justifiably stripped away by those in power and we fail to protect the weakest and most vulnerable members or our society, then our future as a free nation is all but lost.