Today in psychology, the teacher began to speak on 'learned helplessness'. It was learned helplessness that, in her mind, kept the Jews in concentration camps. 'After all,' she pointed out, 'they vastly outnumbered their guards.' Shocked silence. A girl up front pointed out that the guards were armed. The teacher pointed out that the Jews could have fought the guards, and even though some of them would have died, others would have lived. I pointed out that families had been separated, mothers from their children, fathers from their wives. How could a father escape, for example and leave his wife and children behind? How could a mother abandon her children? The teacher said "If they had left, they could have gotten help." Rising incredulousness. I responded that it was the same people in those same towns that had rounded them up and sent them there. "Not everyone was against them," she replied. Someone else responded, "How would they have known who to trust?" She pointed out that the countries of Europe are as small as our states. She's been there. The Jews could have gone to neighboring countries to get help. At that point, I simply stopped talking. The stupid woman had no idea. She had no idea what she was talking about. Other people continued to debate. She continued to insist that the Jews could have saved themselves, but chose to do nothing. Starvation, illness, brutality, nothing would sway herself from the view that the Jews had a choice, that they could have done something.
She talked on and on, discounting everything anyone said, I began to gather my things. I walked out of the classroom. As I reached the door, she said, "Are you leaving us?" "Yes," I said. "This is the most offensive conversation I have ever heard. You are blaming the victims."
As I explained to the department head later, this is the sort of conversation that you hear from a skin head, or a Nazi. This is not the sort of conversation I expect to hear from a college professor. To her credit, the department head was nearly as shocked as I was.