I remember the first time I ever watched the 1961 classic film Judgement at Nuremburg. The cinematic masterpiece, which showed the tragedy of the Holocaust from both the perspectives of those who were taken in by the hatred of the Third Reich and outsiders who couldn’t believe such horrors actually took place, enthralled me to the bone. While Maximilian Schell attempted to downplay the repugnance of Nazi Germany and Spencer Tracy wrestled with his conscience as to whether or not one could blame the German people for the crimes brought before the court, it was Burt Lancaster’s final speech as the former Nazi Judge Ernst Janning that moved me the most. He described the reality of how the Third Reich came to power through the scapegoating of racial minorities and the complicity of the German people. He revealed the facts of how he and the other judges on trial played a part in the deaths of millions. He told of how he was the worst of all who stood trial, because he knew the truth of what was happening and yet remained silent throughout it all. He then uttered a line that has always remained with me, “I am going to tell them the truth,” he said to the court. “I am going to tell them the truth if the whole world conspires against it.”
Though Ernst Janning had little left in his control, the truth was the most powerful weapon he could wield. With the truth, he could stop the legacy of Hitler’s Germany from rising again. With the truth, he could strip the power from those who had misused it against millions, even if that meant sentencing himself to prison. With the truth, he became a revolutionary amongst followers. Even if the world tried to bury it and forget what had happened, the truth still existed and could not be touched.
The truth is defined as the quality or state of being based on fact by the Oxford Dictionary.
Remember these definitions. It is important to know what these words mean truly mean.
These are some of the most powerful things one can use in a world that wishes to mislead or manipulate the masses by silencing reality. If they weren’t powerful tools, the Third Reich and other totalitarian regimes would not have spent their time attempting to distort what was real to their citizens. They wouldn’t have spent so much time destroying history and different kinds of art, the two things that reveal patterns of humanity to people who look closely enough. The regimes would not have killed those who spoke out about what their government was doing. It’s important to always remember the truth.
It is also important that we recognize when someone wishes to distort reality again, because what follows these distortions are realities we have seen before.
When Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, presents an idea that “alternative facts” exist, we should find ourselves concerned with the fact that someone wishes to sell the idea that perception and opinion are the same as actual reality. When Steve Bannon, the Chief White House Strategist, tells the media to be silent because he does not believe what is being said, we should not disregard his words, but question what he fears being spoken. When the White House Press Secretary for the President, Sean Spicer, refuses to present evidence or facts to accusations he claims the President has made against groups of individuals who are blamed for the woes of a country, we should not remain silent. When the President shows us who he is through his actions and statements, we should believe these facts, not the image he wishes for us to believe in.
Because The Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers, it began with words. It started with an acceptance of distorted reality and unchecked claims carried forward by bigotry, and the complicity of those who were unaffected by the lies. It started with silence from those who did know the truth until it was too late for the truth to be heard, even if it was spoken. We must fight for the truth now, for when the smoke clears of “alternative facts” and silenced truth down the line, we may not be able to handle the horrible realities we are left with.
George Orwell once said, “In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” So if we truly wish to become the revolution, if we truly wish to resist going down the road we have all seen before, we must act. If we truly mean it when we hold signs that say #NeverAgain at marches and we truly wish to fight for a world where we are free and equal, we must start by telling the truth, and demand facts and reality as the norm from this administration. We must fight back and resist now.
We must not remain silent.
We must tell the truth.
Even if the whole world conspires against it.