One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity I get to spend some time with our guests who come to speak to our Upper School boys. This morning Elly Gotz, a Holocaust survivor, had a cup of tea with me, and this gave me the chance to ask him the age-old question about the nature of evil.
He didn’t need to pause before responding: “I’ve spent quite a bit of time, as you may imagine, thinking about this issue, and I believe it all goes back to biology. Man is essentially tribal. We are uncomfortable with the outsider because he is a threat. He is competition. If I cut off my own flesh and try to give it to even my brother, his body would reject it. It is not of him.
It is the way with people. We are suspicious of the outsider. When I first came to Canada, I heard and told ‘Newfy’ jokes until I realized what I was doing – I was ridiculing the outsider. So first, we must recognize this impulse, this feeling in yourself. This prejudice can become a political policy – genocide – which goes back to the Latin ‘to kill the tribe’ – and government can make this happen. Look at Turkey and Darfur.
What is essential is that people read, become politically aware, and that they vote. Terrible things can happen. Someone asked me, ‘Could this happen in Canada?’ and I said, ‘They rounded up the Japanese and imprisoned them during World War II. Do you think if the government asked for a volunteer to exterminate them, do you think no one would volunteer?’ Remember, Germany was the most civilized country in Europe at the time…
But I am an optimist. I believe that the human brain can prevail, that it can overcome this biological predisposition, this fear and suspicion of the outsider. And that’s why, after all of these years, I continue to talk.”