Triumph Over Evil


By Elena Greco

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
by Gustav Klimt 1907
permanently at Neue Galerie, NYC
The Woman in Gold

Typical reading time: 2 minutes

February 13, 2024

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this country and what small thing I might do to contribute to its protection in these dangerous times. What keeps coming up for me is an extraordinary event in our past, how it correlates to the present, and how I might bring it alive as a warning for our current situation.

World War II was a defining event over a six-year period of time in our history. I was born a decade after it ended, and the spirit of patriotism and the memory of our triumph over evil—and I use that term as meaning immoral in the extreme, given to an intent to cause harm, or toxic to humanity—was still quite present and fresh. The memory also included all that it cost us to triumph over that evil.

It seems that younger generations who didn’t experience the actual event or its lengthy and profound aftermath are oblivious to what actually happened and why it must never happen again. In that I’ve been caught by surprise, because I assumed that the cause and events of World War II were well taught in our schools. I see now that I was wrong about that.

That the Sieg Heil salute is being used widely again—in this country, no less, one which professes to be a beacon for democracy—seemingly without shock and repulsion by every American citizen, makes my blood run cold. (Yes, it is done now with closed fist, but that hardly disguises its purpose.) I suspect that those under sixty-five who indulge in that practice in their support of a particularly vile leader, and the suppression of morals and compassion that goes with it, don’t understand the full extent of the depravity that that salute signals and encourages. It seems that they find it romantic or exciting in some way, or perhaps they’re simply juiced up by crowd energy and manipulated into thinking that they’re joining a club that makes them more powerful, all the while being oblivious to our history and what our country stands for.

The Third Reich was much more than a descent into fascism. (And why any true American would think fascism is a good thing is also confounding to me, but that’s a topic for another post.) It was a full embrace of evil—again, that word—in disregarding human life and suffering; in methodically torturing and murdering huge numbers of human beings, in deliberately inflicting maximum suffering on fellow humans, seemingly with gusto and even pleasure. It was an intention to suppress, even annihilate, the human spirit, along with every ounce of creativity and imagination it might possess. It was an attempt to take over the world. I don’t need a religion that offers Satan to me as a representative of evil when I can see it with my own eyes in fellow human beings who have followed a mad leader.

And so, because it seems a good time to remind my fellow Americans what World War II was really about, and why the Fourth Reich is really, really not something you want to embrace or bring into being, I’m offering below some great shows which tell some of the true stories of real-life people in real-life situations, living their lives just as we’re living ours, when the unthinkable happened. I find the arts particularly effective at bringing stories from the past alive in a relatively enjoyable and relatable manner, and without boring us, as a textbook might do. I deliberately chose shows that are beautiful and enjoyable, even with stories of suffering in the background, so that no one need fear a depressing or unhappy time in watching them. Some were profoundly moving or inspirational to me. I also learned about things I hadn’t learned in history books. And again, they’re all true, even if represented with cinematic mastery. I recommend them.

All the Light We Cannot See (Netflix)
Aria Mia Loberti, Louis Hofmann, Lars Eidinger, Hugh Laurie, Mark Ruffalo, Marion Bailey

The Monuments Men (Netflix) (leaving April 1)
George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett

Operation Finale (Netflix)
Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson

Woman in Gold (Netflix)
Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds

The Zookeepers Wife (Netflix)
Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl, Michael McElhatton

Also recommended:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Netflix)
The Imitation Game (Hulu)
The Last Days (Netflix)
Life Is Beautiful (Vudu $)
The Pianist (Vudu $)
Schindler’s List (Vudu $)

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