The Targets of the Holocaust, Living and Dead

April 30th, 2017

imageIt’s very hard to get people world-wide to comprehend what happens when individuals undergo the loss of intrinsic, ‘human’ values and demonstrate that loss through actions forever placing such persons beyond ‘the Pale’ of any societal group. The original term represented a division between areas of vastly different populations in 1300’s southern France. In the late seventeen hundreds, Russia’s Catherine the Great had such a district constructed along her border with Western Europe to contain and separate the Jewish population. Going ‘beyond the Pale’ would have indeed brought severe consequences to a Jewish resident at the hands of the peasantry beyond it. Their recourse to such ‘invasions’ was beyond a standard for decent behavior. This phrase was forcibly brought to mind when I traveled to the Dachau Memorial outside Munich last week. I felt rather raw, that being the day after Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day observed by Jews world-wide.

Historically, responsibility for life in most societies has been relinquished to some ‘other’ entity. First, a parent shoulders responsibility for a child but may not teach adult skills to beyond those required to earn ones’ food and shelter. Then the grown ‘child’ looks to friends, professionals and governmental agencies for the ability to form judgements about the ways of life above subsistence needs. In the last hundred years or so, given advances in literacy and technology, failed ideals of humanistic freedoms were installed within the human software. This was done largely via the politics of real and faux democratic/parliamentary bodies. The presumption of political systems that followed the Divinity of Kings and the monarchical ownership of all lands was that individuals could both embody and shoulder the burdens of life. In truth, that misunderstanding about the governments we form merely replaced feudal notions of the relationships between serfs and villeins. The ‘Pale’ might today represent community boundaries in any area but nowhere has the serrated edge of a border ‘knife’ been so violated as in the camps built to house, torture, and dispose of minority human protoplasm.

Dachau is one such town, possessing the remains of the first concentration camp built in 1933 under the embodiment of a defeated people known as Adolf Hitler. This camp served as the model camp and SS troop training center for the all of the camps operating until 1945. Happenstance placed myself in Munich last week so I made the journey to Dachau in order to view this example of how relinquishing personal responsibility for self-governance ends up. When new methods of taking independence of action and thought from adults are developed, they are usually tested out upon minorities. The Jew has typically been the first laboratory ‘animal’ selected for this task due mainly to the completeness of our own laws of life. We often joined with other groups but had no sense of reliance upon their laws and ways. The idea of an independent and self-sustainable group within a larger, yet more dependent group, invited thousands of years of challenges to Jewish community leaders. Many challenges resulted in violence, murder and either assimilation or relocation of the able-bodied survivors. In Dachau, there would be no ‘lesson’ in adapting to a group. Promised survival in exchange for work, obedience and ‘love of the Fatherland’, the final solution to two thousand years of Diaspora life was perfected by turning soldiers and policeman into flesh covered, iron bars and prison guards in both open and fenced-in areas.

Trying to place myself into a proper frame of mind for this journey of thirty miles and seventy years, I heard an Irish-accented tour guide talking to his group. “It’s been so many years since the Holocaust, it would be better if survivors told their stories with humor, as in a stand-up comedy routine.” Astounded, I had to reply to that outrage with, ‘Yeah, because there are so many ways to make starving to death, funny.’

Seething, my thoughts turned towards Israel. I had moved there under the 1950 ‘Law of Return’ from the States several years ago, dividing my time between these locales. Knowing my family had been exiled from Judea in Roman times, a return by a single member of my small family had seemed appropriate. There I’d acquired the infinite ideal of ‘Ki M’Zion’. Translated as ‘Because of Jerusalem’, I’d learned to time travel from past to future and view each section of history in a new light. However, there was no conceivably humorous approach to a trip of this nature and all too many approximations, preparations, for this event in my own history.

The mere approach to Dachau camp was quite draining emotionally. It was hard seeing so many young people on tours approaching the memorial museum as though its’ atrocities were all in the past. Genocide and torture are alive and well today, recorded for all to know in the daily newspapers. Prison systems in most countries may be likened to camps based upon slave labor and common abuses taking place between guards and prisoners. Violence between prisoners often happens with the permission of the guards, a substitute for violations of laws against these actions. Once a group or person is slated for termination, those ‘bodies’ cease to be of import. The mechanism by which prisoners are housed, set to work at meaningful versus labor-intensive wasted efforts, fed, tormented and ultimately removed from a state of living death tells the tale. It’s the gate keepers that matter. In this and too many other cases, the individuals are turned into mindless, numb levers that grind living potential into a thing so abhorrent that no other alteration into a better or more independent state is possible. Who would have such an entity among them?

A patina of humane treatment of prisoners does exist in some detainment facilities, largely due to an acknowledgement that those in charge of the prisoners must retain their dignity even while faced daily with others’ brutality. Israel has maintained that none of us would ever say we were ‘…only following orders.’, should we be called to account, a stance that has stood the test of time.

The Dachau museum was sponsored by the Bavarian State and meant its’ staff to possess a depth of gravity and sensitivity suitable to the nature of the site. Unfortunately, a few staff may have become inured to the pain of visitors and grown rather hard. The April date of my visit was cold with a combination of rain and snow falling along the extensive outdoor trails where roll calls and marches of living corpses between barracks had taken place. Dressed for spring and without the energy to walk 800 meters this week in the cold, I handed over my Israeli ID card in order to borrow a motorized chair. Awareness of what awaited brought advance tears to my eyes at the registration desk that were met with derision.

The car was driven through the door and handed over. ” Put your umbrella in the basket.”, was the instruction given. I set off, my backpack fast becoming soaked in the increasingly heavy rain. Opening the umbrella, I progressed in a chill wind alongside poplars surrounded by ghosts in thin, striped rags. Gritting my teeth, my emotions settled into a manageable state and my tour began.

Attempts to enter the old concrete buildings and barracks failed. The moisture in the unheated buildings had made the atmosphere unbreathable for my lungs, previously made hyper-reactive by toxic gassed back in the late nineties. Those disabling agents had been derivatives of the Zyklon B and other gasses used in this camp.

Still, it was enough to zip my jacket up to my throat and drive alongside the exhibits while listening to the audio tour. The story was not unfamiliar. Children of Jewish WWI survivors, my parents had shown the WWII documentaries to myself at the age of ten when the uncertainties of the communist encroachments of the sixties loomed large. Shivering uncontrollably after an hour on the trails, I returned to the entrance hall to eat a light meal and browse in the bookstore. I bought a book about the resistance while the store clerk muttered in German about customers buying ‘false information’. She may have been a new hire as she appeared barely out of her teens.

I’ve met numerous survivors in my lifetime growing up in New York City so reading about the road traveled by the partisans, rather than the prisoners, was my goal. Only those for whom self-governance is the only possible way of life are able to break down tyranny and, afterwards, create viable ways of life to be led in groups. Thus far, we’ve seen far too many attempts throughout history where men strove to re-create ways in which groups might prosper – those ways lacking in permanence from their very inception.

The dining area was filled with young people who pondered novel questions about recent evils, however careless their manner. Nonetheless, while I reviewed present day incarnations of Amalek, the Biblical tribe synonymous with a voracious appetite for evil, the odd visage appeared that obviously felt the truths encountered that day. See the documentaries because denial of reality is frequent when you start to believe an historical novel or film about real events will effectively convey human nature to you. Only when you have fully attained these notions will you ever pass them along to others, The transmission of life in all its facets from one generation, is unlike the transfer of data bytes from one computer to another. Instead, we present a reality or reliable representation, at the right moment and enlarge upon that at suitable intervals. That is the form of transmission that matters as we drive forward into history.

Categories: Testimony

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