At one point in her diary, Anne Frank seemed to affirm that humans are basically good (the optimism of youth?). Rutka’s shorter, more terse and terrifying diary might implicitly suggest that humanity’s basic tendency is toward evil, or at best, indifference. She seems more ambiguous on this matter. As to rescuers, there’s “heroes” like Irena Sendler, and the less-than-likely hero who is a poster “child” for moral ambiguity: Oskar Schindler. What do you make of all this? Before responding, students are to carefully follow the specific instruction prompts in which responses can be drawn from a a number of required resources to support viewpoints.
Good/Neutral/Mixed Bag/Bad
Regarding human nature or as some put it, “the human condition”: There are at least three positions represented on the continuum: humans are basically good; humans might be thought of as neutral—neither basically good nor basically evil; and humans are basically bad or evil. A fourth would be an inconsistent, untidy mixed bag of noble good and brash, bold bad.
People frequently quote Anne Frank’s admission to her diary, “Kitty,” that “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” The Diary of a Young Girl (New York: Pocket Books, 1959), 233.. However, we must bear in mind that Anne wrote this entry before the betrayal, arrest, and deportation of her family. Would she have continued to defend such a position in Bergen-Belsen?
Rutka Laskier, referred to as the “franker Anne Frank,” or the “Anne Frank of Poland,” wrote in her diary about how she had witnessed a Nazi soldier tearing a Jewish baby out of his wailing mother’s arms, and then proceeded to kill the baby with his bare hands:
I’m turning into an animal waiting to die…The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with gun butts or shoved into sacks and gassed to death…I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it’s over, you only die once … but I can’t, because despite all these atrocities, I want to live, and wait for the following day.
Rutka and her family were sent to Auschwitz in August 1943. Most likely she was killed upon her arrival there. Rutka was 14; Anne Frank, also born in 1929, died in Bergen-Belsen at the age of 16 (1945). Regardless of their seemingly differing perspectives on human nature, both teenage girls shared the horrors of the Holocaust.
The question remains to be answered: are we basically good, inherently evil, neither / neutral, or a disturbing mix of both? Keeping in mind the reality of evil in all its manifestations—taking care not to minimize human potential, capacity, and capability—imagine that you are standing in the presence of these two girls. How do you respond to this vexing question?
I do not want a hastily composed opinion without exploration of what is at stake in this conversation.
IN PREPARING YOUR RESPONSE, students are to refer to
1. Theories of evil hand out
2. Power Point 1 (theological views on human nature and explanations / theories of evil)
3. Power Point 2 (writers and thinkers on evil, human nature
In addition, choose a reference or idea from your choice of materials, including, but not limited to:
? The You Tube video on “Evil in Film”
? Compelling Q&A: The Good, the Bad, the Neutral (and the mixed bag)
? Power Point: Oskar Schindler and Moral Ambiguity
? Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon extract on human nature, and “loving one’s enemy”
? Philip Zimbardo and “the Lucifer Effect and the Psychology of Evil”
Two paragraphs, well written, will suffice. Of course, students surely are welcome to write lengthier responses if so inclined.