Sunday, May 4, 2008

Holocaust Remembrance

I was moved to read, in yesterday's New York Times, of the death of Philipp von Boeselager at the age of 90. Count von Boeselager was the last of the approximately 200 German officers to have participated in the plot to assassinate Hitler at the Wolf's Lair in 1944. Claus von Stauffenberg, who planted the briefcase bomb in the failed attempt, was summarily executed, along with most of the other conspirators. His name is the one most frequently associated with the plot. Von Boeselager--shown here in a picture taken three weeks before he joined the anti-Hitler movement in 1942--was chosen to be the gunman in a 1943 plan to shoot both Hitler and Himmler at close range. He was all set to go, loaded pistol in hand, when Himmler decided at the last moment not to attend the meeting at which the action was to take place, and the attempt was called off.

There he was, though, von Boeselager, in 1943, two feet from Hitler with a loaded pistol and prepared to pull the trigger...

The Times obituary quotes the late Count from a recent interview: "I always see Hitler from here to the fireplace in front of me"--those scant two feet--"and think, 'What would have happened if you had shot him?'"

What, indeed. May 1st was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. I wonder how many million Jewish lives would have been spared by that one bullet? How many tens of thousands of other lives? The Buddhist teachings forbid the taking of life at any time, in any circumstance. I don't know what the Buddha might have done in such a circumstance, knowing, as von Boeselager did, of the existence of the extermination camps, and knowing of the atrocities of war. But I think I would have encouraged von Boeselager to take aim and fire.

5 comments:

katia said...

The Buddhist teachings forbid the taking of life at any time, in any circumstance.

in vajrayana, this is not true. chogyam trungpa, rinpoche once said in a talk that he would have gladly killed hitler had he been around and had the opportunity to do so. it would've prevented countless deaths and prevented hitler from accumulating untold amounts of negative karma. win/win.

intent is everything in the karma department.

Mark said...

My Eastern Religion teacher once told me that in Buddhism attachment to the idea of preserving life is just as bad as any other attachment. I wonder how that would play out in a situation like this. How does that balance out with the Buddhist idea of compassion?

PeterAtLarge said...

Katia, thanks for that insight, much appreciated and a relief, in the conscience department! And Mark, I think you'll find Katia's observation helpful, too. Thanks to both...

G said...

Interesting thoughts, Peter et al.
If Boeselager had shot Hitler, maybe Himmler would have taken the Fuhrer’s place and had Boeselager executed and carried on with the Nazi’s awful agenda. Perhaps the Nazis would have imploded after their leader’s death and the War would have come to a stop - only to erupt again years or even decades later…
What ifs can be fascinating subjects for reflecting on. Hopefully they eventually lead us to the one place and time where we can do something about our lives: here and now. Where are the present-day holocausts? Who are the present-day Nazis? And who are their victims – the modern equivalents of the Jews, Gypsies, gays, and disabled who suffered so at the Nazis’ whims? A few places come to mind where such terrible events are presently being reenacted: Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, and China (including Tibet of course), to mention but a few.
It’s up to all of us who consider ourselves ‘civilized’, compassionate, or caring to reflect on such an issue, isn’t it, Peter? How can we help the Tibetans, Zimbabweans, etc? How can we help ourselves to end suffering and lead others to the same realization of Nirvana?

Thanks for a stimulating post,
G at ‘Forest Wisdom’/’Buddha Space’.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks to you, too, G, for a thought-provoking response. I brought this issue up in our sangha yesterday, following our hour-long sit, and there were a number of different responses. The question of historical revisionism and hindsight arose, but my point had more to do with what vB actually knew, at the time--at least as he recalled it later--and what action I would have urged with that knowledge in mind. I think there's more on this to come in the next couple of days. One of our sangha members sent me a link to a relevant site in the Buddhist texts, and I plan to check that out today.