Terrible Things

I read a book today that was very powerful. It isn’t long, it doesn’t have flashy illustrations or human characters, but it was powerful nonetheless.

Eve Bunting‘s book, Terrible Things: an allegory of the Holocaust is illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The story starts in a beautiful forest clearing where the animals live in harmony until the Terrible Things come for them. First they want the creatures with feathers on their backs. The featherless animals are quick to point out that they don’t have feathers like the birds. After the Terrible Things take the birds, the animals left behind have to explain away why it was okay for the Terrible Things to do that. Then they want the animals with bushy tails, then the animals who can swim, then the animals with quills.

But the Terrible Things don’t need a reason. Just mind your own business, Little Rabbit. We don’t want them to get mad at us.

Gammell’s illustrations start out seeming simple but you quickly realize there is a quiet horror within the illustrations.

Finally, all that are left are the rabbits, and not even they are safe from the Terrible Things.

Now, I’m not passing judgement on anyone and I doubt that the author is either. I think the animals did what all of us would do in a situation where we are horrified but feel we were fortunate to be spared. We rationalize. The only problem with rationalizing is that the more you do it, the flimsier the reasons become. 

I can’t imagine what life was like for The German people during the Nazi Regime. Life had been pretty awful since World War I, and then this charasmatic group steps up and says they can fix everything. Most people would be hopeful at the least. But then when certain types of people become targets, you either stick your own neck out (and your family’s) to speak up for a group you don’t belong to, or you keep your head down and rationalize it away.

It’s easy to say that you’d be the type to stand up and say NO!, but who can really say what we’d do in that unthinkable situation? I’m  sure the people who saw the Jewish being put into ghettos and then onto cattle cars knew they should do something, but maybe they were scared. That’s a normal human reaction, after all.

If I had no one to worry about besides myself, yeah, I’d have stood  up and spoke for the Jewish, the gypsies, the homosexuals, handicapped and the mentally disabled. But I have a family and I just can’t be sure.


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