This past week, in what would appear to be two unrelated events, I experienced both the Bernie Madoff saga and the film The Reader. 

The Madoff saga is fascinating, compelling and ultimately tragic–innocent people were hurt by an individual whose secretive, corrupt Ponzi scheme was ultimately  brought down by the world wide financial crisis. The ramifications of what he perpetrated have yet to be fully explored.

He was often able to appeal to the desire for financial success and trust of those who had an enormous amount of money to begin with [although individuals of much more modest means were brought along by richer connections].  His promise and assumed deliverance of above market rates of return were the key to attracting these investments.  No one looked to deeply  or carefully–the money and returns were as seductive as his methods.  His ability to create an atomosphere of selectivity in whose money he invested, made the appeal that much greater.

Analysts will debate whether Madoff began with the intention of defrauding his clients.  One theory which may be valid was that he began with reasonable intentions, may have even delivered above average returns for a while and therefore grew his business and reputation, faced ultimate market downturns but refused to admit his falibility.

Perhaps this was the underlying mechanism which led him to commit the evil he has admitted. A weakness in character, a desire to be admired and respected, an inability to admit his own imperfection and a willingness to do what was clearly wrong–to make bad choices and follow their outcome. 

Regardless, his actions led to the pain and suffering of others.  Unquestionably a degree of responsibiity and karma exist for evil perpetrated even if his initial intentions were benign.

In a strange way, issues of responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust which are dealt with in the book and film The Reader offer up similar karmic questions.

Clearly, the Holocaust could not have happened without the participation of millions on multiple levels of involvement.  How does one assign guilt to anyone who contributed to the death and destruction.  A generation of post-Holocaust Germans are trying to do so, and the movie attempts to explore these issues.

Without going into to too much plot or character development [everyone should see the film] it involves a simple, illiterate German woman who was a prison guard at Auschwitz.  She was one of those 'good' Germans who were a part of the horror.  She selected Jewish women who were to be gassed. 

She experienced no sense of committing a crime, no intention to hurt or hate anyone.  There was a scene in the movie  where  she is questioned by a tribunal regarding here participation in the  camps.   Jewish women had been locked into a church one night when a fire breaks out.  They could not escape and all died except the one woman who wrote a book which led to the trial.

Hanna's reason for not letting them out was pathetic.  She was afraid they would run away and that she would get into trouble. 

Perhpas the lesson of Madoff and The Reader is simply this–evil comes in many forms and degrees.   It can hide itself in many garbs and even begin without our awareness.  The perpetrators of evil are not necessarily 'monsters'.  The German people were not different kinds of human beings than everyone else.  Bernie Madoff was probalby a 'nice guy ' as many described him.

At some point, however, we need to recognize  that we are all capable of doing wrong.  We need to be vigilant and aware.  The devil doesn't make us do it–the source is within each of us.  We are the judge and jury of our own actions.  This is  what is meant by karma on a deep soul level. 

 We are always responsible for the choices we make.  We need to open our eyes to the consequences of our actions and be aware of where they might lead.  We are all capable of choosing good or evil.  Let's hope we choose well.

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