The structure of the course was common and straightforward. We would read an assigned book, listen to the prof's thoughts, and then discuss the work as a group. These group talks invariably ended up concentrating on why and how questions.
Why didn't people living during these horrific times rise up to stop the evil?
Why didn't people resist?
How could average people allow themselves to be lulled into active complacency with obvious evil?
How did common, everyday people cope with the knowledge that they were active participants in such horrors?
How could people be so easily fooled by obvious lies?
How could they not see what was happening around them?
How could they live with themselves?
Why didn't more people fight against the evil?
And so on and so forth . . .
During these discussions, I intently observed the faces of my fellow students. In their eyes I could see that they believed they would have acted differently - that they would have fought the Bolsheviks with their bare hands - that they would have risked their lives to hide Jews in basements - that they would have cut holes in the fences around the concentration camps - that they would have assassinated Hitler and Stalin were they given the opportunity to do so.
And the thing is, they believed it. They were so sure of their own principles and values. They were so sure that they would never have behaved in the way people had behaved under the Nazis and the Soviets. They would have been different. They would have stood up. They would have resisted evil. They would have remained on the right side.
I sometimes wonder what those ex-fellow students of mine are doing now . . .