Fifteen People

What number of people can destroy a world?

One answer is 15.

It is today, January 20, in 1942, that 15 men gather around a large table and in two hours agree on a plan to kill every Jewish man, woman, and child they can find, wielding all the powers a nation-state can give them.

The journal of one of the participants survives, allowing us to know this.

The 15 were various German Nazis, a mixture of military and governmental officials. As heads of departments, programs, or special projects, they talked and chatted, thought and imagined, planned and re-planned, tasted appetizers and sipped beverages, across a span of 120 minutes. Meeting in comfort (shown above), they ended in consensus: kill every Jewish man, woman, and child they could find using the latest techniques of science, industry, administration, and public relations. No stone went unturned, no rock left untouched. A cold light reached every dark place.

You know the next, the rest of the Holocaust.

I only want to suggest a few things here.

First, there is no modern person. There are only people in the latest era of modern times, some of whom apply the newest creations to the oldest evils.

Second, there is no immune person. In a time of vaccinations and other treatments filling the daily news, nothing is available to ensure that people surrender the worst of themselves. The worst is there and will be known. The potential for wisdom is there as well. At issue is the struggle, the clash, the competition between them. We can hope or pray for amelioration, for replacement, for final and lasting victory.

Third, there is no forgotten person. In the wind and breezes that blow outside the conference room of Wannsee House, in the shadows and the soil, in the ashes and the dust, in your mind’s invisible scenes and your soul’s silent voices right now, an awareness stirs, dim but real, resting on the strands, hidden in the molecules.

15 people at a conference table. Two hours. A world gone but not a gone world.

(for those interested in a brilliant film depiction, see )