Sins, that which is counted against you when one´s life is assessed, come in two basic forms: commission (what you did but shouldn´t have) and omission (what you should have done but didn´t).
Clearly, there are no innocents, alive or dead, in the world.
This lesson was powerfully demonstated to Ute and I yesterday when visiting the exhibit “The skies burn on the horizon: Switzerland during World War II” at the Kartause Ittingen.
Powerful paintings, sobering pictures, sorrowful recollections of a time not so far removed in the past.
Switzerland has a long tradition of housing refugees.
Huguenots fled from France in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Socialists and anarchists from all over Europe came to Switzerland in the 19th century, including Stalin and Mussolini.
Then, as now, they came as individuals or in small groups.
In the years of 1940 to 1944, Switzerland was not so accommodating, rejecting 25,000 Jewish refugees at its borders.
Switzerland was surrounded by fascism all around: Mussolini in Italy, the Nazis in Germany, the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria by the Nazis, the conquest of France by the Nazis.
Then, even more than today, Switzerland was truly a land-locked island unto itself.
There was widespread fear that tiny crowded Switzerland would be overwhelmed by refugees who would aggravate the shortage of food for all, though stats suggest that the population of Switzerland would only have increased by 0.6%.
Collaboration was easier compared to the prospect of capitulation…and, for some, more profitable.
“Those who cannot remember the past, those who do not learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.”
(George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume One: Reason in Common Sense)
The rest of the world could not then, and cannot now, claim moral superiority.
Boatloads of Jewish refugees sailed the world looking for safe ports of call, yet many were rejected by so-called enlightened nations, including Canada and the United States, because of their Jewish status.
(Google SS St. Louis for just one example.)
Most nations had the capacity to accept far more refugees than they actually did.
Most nations today have the capacity to do more good than they actually do.
Today, in our more progressive age, boatloads of refugees still roam the oceans, escaping persecution or starvation.
Enlightened democratic governments, like the European Union or Australia, continue to reject, or accept with extreme reluctance, those wishing to start a better life on their shores.
The American government is extremely interested if a person flying from Europe to America is of Arab origin or not and forces carriers to deliver personal information about passengers.
Again, fear is a factor countering our humanity, despite statistics proving that our fears are greater than the actual reality of the threats to our peaceful prosperity.
Most of us today are fine upstanding individuals living in nations with solid moral traditions and reputations.
We consciously and conscientiously avoid doing wrong, but if we know the right thing to do and do not do it, then this is wrong as well.
If we do not deliver those that seek our assistance and deliver them from death and war, persecution, repression or starvation…
If we do not hold back those staggering to their own slaughter, then our morals and values are mere whispers in the wind.
We need to listen to the harsh lessons that history has tried to teach us.