The idea for this letter came to me as I was riding the train from Prague to Warsaw, Poland. It was a crowded overnight train which meant a very long night with no sleep and lots of thinking. As I sat in my train car, I recalled the book I read earlier this year, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi. He mentioned a train route through Prague into Auschwitz and I realized, in that moment, I was living alongside the path that led to the location where the greatest devastation on humanity took place.
Once I realized I was possibly taking a similar route (metaphorically) that night into Poland as several thousand Jews did many years before, the history I’ve learned, the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen all came rushing into my head. Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, “Schindler’s List.” Suddenly, the fact that I was slightly annoyed by how uncomfortable the train was completely transformed into one of the most enlightening and shocking experiences of my life.
I chose to become something different on the train that night. I chose to close my eyes and insert myself into one of the trains headed for Auschwitz. I remember Levi explaining the conditions of the trains, the darkness he saw, the treatment he and the others were shown. I’ll never understand what he wrote. I’ll never know what it was like being transported to Auschwitz like lambs to the slaughter. But once I remembered what I had read, my seat rapidly became as comfortable as a feather-bed, my eyes and body were so full of energy that I forgot it was 2am and I hadn’t slept. I was free to walk around the train, use the bathroom, drink water – a luxurious journey compared to all the trains that went before me.
Once I placed myself into the experiences I had read from those that actually lived them, my perspective on the discomfort of my journey, my perspective on life, people and humanity shifted into something I can only hope to express through this letter.
Mr. Adolf Hitler,
We’ve never met, but you’ve seen my face. In thousands of strangers. The faces you and your army saw on children, men (fathers, sons, grandfathers) and women (sisters, mothers, aunts). The very expressions on their faces while they tried to understand what was happening have been displayed on my face as well. The sadness that was shown on their faces as you ripped their families from their arms and sent one to the left and one to the right, my face has shown that sadness as well. The looks in their eyes that your army ignored while executing them or beating them has also been in my eyes. You’ve seen my face, you just don’t remember.
We’ve never met, but I know you. I’ve learned all about you. I’m familiar with your vision and goals for your world. I understand your beliefs. When I say I understand them, I mean I am aware of them. I could never understand your side of the story. There will never come a time when I say, “I see your point.” What’s perplexing to me is that you managed to hear that very response from so many others. So many other people who believed as you, followed your leadership, looked to you for inspiration and guidance and followed your orders. Followed the orders to ignore the pain and desperation from millions of innocent people. How were you so successful at convincing this army to disregard human emotion?
It is clear that you and I are nothing alike. You are nothing like anyone I know. I imagine someone like you is filled with darkness and sadness. I wonder what would have come of you had you lived during my time. How would your life turn out had you not been such a powerful figure?
I often wonder what words would come to mind if I could ever speak to you. Would I yell and scream at you for causing such devastation and destruction? Would I cry when I saw your face? Would I spit on you and walk away? There is no way for me to know what I would do or say and for that I am thankful. However, I do know that a soul like yours served a purpose. Instead of causing hatred and fear, you ended up creating a more loving and compassionate audience. If you were around today, you’d see the memorials, monuments and outpouring of love that were caused by your actions.
You did not leave behind a legacy to remember and honor. Your efforts were wasted. Instead of burying and forgetting a race of people out of pure hatred, you’ve managed to lift them up for all future generations to learn and grow in the exact opposite direction of your teachings. You’ve made famous people like Anne Frank, who managed to remain positive and hopeful despite your evil planning. You assisted her in delivering her message of love and her belief that people are still good. You provided the stage for a young Jewish girl to become famous, loved and respected.
While you may look back on your journey with satisfaction and believe progress was made, I can testify the progress you created was no way in your favor.
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” – Anne Frank