“It is as if, after a night of terrible dreams, one looked around the world, defeated, helpless.” – Imre Kertesz
One definitely cannot imagine what the victims of Aushwitz would have gone through. Of course, there is abundant literature on the subject and we get different views in each piece of work. I am going to outline the various things I have read or seen in that connection and may be reflect on the subject.
My first exposure to the Nazi treatment of Jews, obviously apart from word of mouth, came from The Odessa File by Fredrick Foresyth. He is, of course, a master story teller and the book recounts through the diary of one person who commits suicide and the horrors that the concentration camps were. Of course, then I was too young to understand the concept of mass killings or genocide. Let’s just say my sensitivities weren’t that developed.
There was one movie titled “Life is Beautiful” which put a positive spin on the gory past. It was about an intelligent Jew who refuses to let his son despair and manages to convince him that all this was but a game and if they won, they would be rewarded with a big tank. The bleak and horrifying situation around the concentration camp is turned into a game and despite everything, we can not help but smile at the antics of the Protagonist. The child ultimately is freed and one can’t help but feel joyous.
Then, years later I saw Schindler’s List. The movie moved me in many ways and I got a glimpse of what a horror the whole situation actually was. The abuse of power by one man as an example of all the Commanders of the concentration camps who device ingenious ways to torture people. Strangely these persons/German commanders find ways to benefit themselves in the midst of all this. Of course, we see how Schindler manages to let several escape and the historic list actually is the reason for the survival of the entire Jewish community.
Then I watched (not read) Sophie’s Choice. It is an intricate story of a young polish woman who was sent away without reason and without any explanation with her children. Towards the end of the story we learn that Sophie’s choice really relates to her having to make a choice between her two children – to be killed. She ultimately loses both her children and comes to be cared by a mentally challenged person.
An extremely varied perspective is that of “The Reader”, from the eyes of those who were part of the regime, and wish to continue a normal life. The trial, the embarrassment of the protagonist and her experiences at the time. She got little children to read to her before she sent them away! Was she postponing their destiny or was merely arbitrarily using her powers to put an end to their lives? No one can really tell.
I started writing this post in February and then shelved it. However, for some reason I saved it. Yesterday I watched Valkyrie, the movie. This was another perspective. Well, more than a perspective it was an example of hope. It is touching what some German Commanders and Generals tried to achieve for their Germany, who were sensitive to the obnoxious ways of Hitler.
They almost had him. But Hitler was not to be deceived and each of the members of the Valkyrie Operation was shot dead or hung to death.
Of all that I have read and heard of the Holocaust so far, Imre Kertesz’s one sentence (supra) summarises the anguish perfectly. It is difficult to say whose anguish it is – the sufferers, the people who caused the suffering, the silent witnesses or the generation that abhors the silent witnesses.
I wonder what was the command Hitler had over the people. Can a mass of people really, truly believe in the extermination of an entire race? Hitler’s antipathy towards the Jews is really indiscernible. Today, can a Hitler pull something off like that?
Today, possibly we are too factionalised for something like the Holocaust to happen. My only question is, are we today protected against such tyranny were it to be perpetrated by another mad man. Is it even today a possibility? I shudder to think, yes. Only it is a different set of people with a different agenda. Can we protect ourselves? Can we protect our next generation?
I shudder when I think, another holocaust is not impossible.