‘What would you have done?’ (The Reader)
It’s one line but it had the power to haunt me for weeks since I first watched that movie. Had the role been reversed, would the judge have done differently as Hanna did? Would he have had the courage to stand up against Nazi Germany and let those prisoners go? Would a heroic act in a time great of peril have made a difference?
What would I have done?
Would I, like Hanna, have followed orders or would I, knowing far too well my resistance to conformity, have opened the doors of the Church and stopped those Jews from burning to death? Sitting here, in the comfort of an air conditioned room, secure from the mayhem of war, I know I’ll open those doors. But what if I was there, with an invisible gun to my head, and a promise that a million more guards are doing the same as me, would I have chosen differently? Maybe not, but one can never say for sure.Only in the toughest moments in our lives do we find what who we are and we can and cannot do.
I am, and you too are, not in the position judge.
It’s not the ability to make a decision that I took from that movie. I know who I am and I know the principles I will never negotiate for. I am not saying that what Hanna did was right, that those lives lost don’t mean a thing, that justice was not served. I too mourn the lives lost in wars that should have never been fought. But those words, her sentiment, opened my eyes to the possibility that even the most atrocious actions are never one plane.
Often we are blinded by the good and the truth that we forget not everyone gets to see it, that maybe there’s another version of the truth or the good that they see but we don’t. Be stern on what’s right, what’s moral and what’s good but be human and open. Understand that decisions and choices are never as easy as black and white.
Ask yourself. What would you have done?
- If you’d like to watch the movie, below is the link for the movie.
- Published before the movie is a book by Bernhard Schlink with the same title. It was published in Germany in 1995.
- Hanna, is one of the main characters, who is on trial after the release of a book one of the prisoners wrote after she survived the torture of a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Hanna was named one of the guards who chose prisoners to be put to death next in that camp. She too admitted to not opening the doors of a Church the prisoners were sleeping in when it burnt down. During her trial the judge asked her why she did such a heinous thing. To which she replied, ‘What would you have done?’
- I watched again it last night so all the feelings and thoughts I had then, I had again.