The last ones leave us now.
October 31, 2008 1:19 PM   Subscribe

More chilling than any horror story I've heard today.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:28 PM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

For those interested I would definately recommend Gitta Sereny's book length interview with the commandant of Treblinka.
posted by Artw at 1:34 PM on October 31, 2008

That's as close to a vision of hell as any I want to hear. When I was a little boy, probably because of the Holocaust stories we heard in the synagogue, I often had Holocaust nightmares. I would dream that I was walking through a camp, and found the ovens, and opened one, and there saw my own burned remains.

Nowadays, I have a lot of zombie dreams, and find I prefer them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:42 PM on October 31, 2008

Growing up Jewish, you are generally assailed with Holocaust history, stories and events with survivors speaking. There are some scare tactics for sure. But just the other I was lamenting the fact that in short while, there will be no survivors left to tell their stories.
posted by gnutron at 1:46 PM on October 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

i almost wish i hadn't read that.

as i go into ritual space this evening, on a day which is typically spent (for me) honoring ancestors and remembering beloveds passed on, i shall certainly shed tears for all of these victims of humanity's worst instincts.

i shall shed tears because there are no words.

i can only hope that there is indeed some heaven, summerland, val halla...some beautiful place which now houses all of those who have died in unspeakable ways at the hands of human greed, lust for power and righteous indignation.
posted by CitizenD at 1:58 PM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's plaques up and down my street comemmorating the people who used to live in the houses, when they were hauled off, and where they were killed- normally Auschwitz.

And then I look at the old Austrians walking down the street and wonder what they were doing back then.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:03 PM on October 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

I wonder what I would have been doing had I been one of them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:07 PM on October 31, 2008 [6 favorites]

dunkadunc and AstroZombie:

Your comments are nearly as poignant as the linked story. I'll be mulling this over for a while.
posted by terpia at 2:13 PM on October 31, 2008

My mother's father's family were Polish and Russian Jews. When the Nazis formed the ghettos, everyone in my grandfather's family pooled their resources and sent the kids to live in America. None of the family that stayed survived. My grandfather was a teenager when he got to Ellis Island, and as soon as he turned 18, he joined the U.S. Army and went back to the European theater. He was one of the American troops that found a concentration camp.

Until he was near death, he never spoke of the war, or what it meant. When he was dying, he told me about Poland, and the Nazis, and the relatives I would never know. He told me that he'd "converted" to Catholicism, and made sure that his daughters and his granddaughters were baptized Catholic because he never got over seeing the ovens, and believing that it was only a matter of time before the Jews would be rounded up again.

This story made me cry. Not only for those that were lost, but for those who remember those that were lost. The horrors that man can inflict on himself never ceases to astound and terrify me.
posted by dejah420 at 2:21 PM on October 31, 2008 [12 favorites]

My girlfriend spent the summer doing direct interviews with survivors. Terrible, terrible stories. The hardest part for me at least was seeing how difficult it was for her to keep engaging with these people, despite the emotional turmoil it caused in her. With a few notable exceptions, these are severely traumatized men and women. Even the skills they've developed to cope and the normalcy they've achieved in their lives rests upon a gaping abyss.

Most of us recoil from the profundity of that abyss and its ugly inhumanity. Even the dark humor, the clich├ęs of holocaust commemoration and the tight and tidy narratives of the survivors are designed, in some sense to parcel out horror in digestible bits. The absolute hopelessness of what the Germans, Poles and Ukranians did to these people is literally beyond our comprehension. And trying to comprehend it reveals you to be either weak or sadistic. Those are the two poles. Either you can handle it, at which point you're damaged yourself, or you can't, at which point you've been defeated by the thing you study.

Yes, it's sad that this generation is dying and that the ability to interact directly with survivors of the Nazi horror is being lost. But we have video and audio and wonderfully astute historians like Raul Hilberg and Claude Lanzmann. Part of me is glad these survivors have lived, given their testimony, enjoyed lives of relative normalcy and can die in a place and time of their choosing. They deserve their rest.
posted by felix betachat at 2:22 PM on October 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry, my comment is incomplete. It makes me sound like a bastard eager to hustle these people off the stage of history, which I'm not. I think their testimony is terribly important and that the people who continue to put themselves in the position of eliciting their recollections with care and sensitivity are decent, courageous folk.

On balance, though, I'd favor a little less self-congratulatory fetishization of the Holocaust as a past event and a little more engagement with the horrors being done today. In a way, the profundity and blind stupidity of the Shoah suck up too much air. These stories should be framed in a way that compels ethical engagement and action in our present moment. That's the only path out of the conundrum of weakness or sadism. And scholarly treatments of the Shoah should strive to treat it not as a unique event, but as near the extreme end of a very broad ethical continuum.
posted by felix betachat at 2:35 PM on October 31, 2008 [12 favorites]

When there are no survivors left, it will just make the Holocaust deniers' jobs easier, which is a terrible thought. They already discount the testimony of every single survivor as the pre-written product of some global conspiracy, and the testimony of the Germans themselves as the result of torture and coercion. When all of the principals are gone, it will make shit like that a lot easier.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:43 PM on October 31, 2008

but there will always be Night.

so read it.
posted by klanawa at 2:48 PM on October 31, 2008

There was an episode of Designing Women that featured a scene based on the true story of an African-American WWII soldier. One of the characters was visiting a veteran's hospital, and this elderly black man related his proudest moment: He was part of a segregated unit, but at one point was joined up with a group of white soldiers who helped to liberate a concentration camp (I think Buchenwald). He said that the soldiers in his platoon had heard rumors of such camps, but hadn't known what to expect. He then teared up as he described men that were no more than skeletons approaching him and staring at him. He said that at first he thought that it was because most Europeans had never seen a "Negro." But then one of the prisoners spoke to him and asked, "Are you an American?" "Yes, sir," the GI replied. The prisoner took the soldier's hand, kissed it, and said "Thank God. We have been waiting for you." The soldier went on to say that the prisoner hadn't called him a black man or a Negro, he had simply identified him as an American, and that that was the most memorable day of his life. He also expressed sadness that there weren't many of his contemporaries left, the remaining ones were all getting on in years, and he worried that eventually people would forget about what happened during that war.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:06 PM on October 31, 2008 [5 favorites]

And Maus, the two most frequently borrowed books in my collection.
posted by heyho at 3:09 PM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to frequent a little breakfast place run by an Holocaust survivor. One day, when my wife and I were sitting at the counter, he shuffled by, and without any provocation or conversation, he looked at us and dropped a few slices of salami on each of our plates, then went back to whatever he was doing.

I can't begin to describe how moving that gesture was.
posted by Graygorey at 3:21 PM on October 31, 2008

On balance, though, I'd favor a little less self-congratulatory fetishization of the Holocaust as a past event and a little more engagement with the horrors being done today.

There was nothing special about what happened in WWII. There will always be survivors of the holocaust around, let me assure you - it's an ongoing process, still just feeling its way and gathering steam... Maybe not people from your team being liquidated at the moment, but what does that matter? If you want first hand accounts of genocide, you'll soon have to turn your attention to Cambodians and Bosnians, and when they are gone we can interview Darfuris, and who knows what the future will hold?

The reason they can never answer the question "How could it possibly happen?" is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is "Why doesn't it happen more often?" -Frederick in Hannah and Her Sisters

If I'd been born in Germany, I suppose I would have been a Nazi, bopping Jews and gypsies and Poles around, leaving boots sticking out of snowbanks, warming myself with my secretly virtuous insides. -KV

Every one of us has a Nazi inside, just waiting for the right circumstances to come out. The atrocities will continue until further notice.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:57 PM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Meatbomb: Some people don't have a Nazi inside at all. I'm with Anne Frank, who believed that people are basically good. It just takes a few Nazis, and a lot of people who are willing to turn the other way. I've lived through it. I saw people sit and await their deaths with pride and silence rather than lower themselves to a state without dignity.

It's hard for me not to have some sense of cynicism about the way the Holocaust is treated. It's astonishing to me to realize that the genocide I lived through, only about 15 years ago, is mostly forgotten. I am often asked about my accent and where I come from. When I say I am Bosnian, I come from Bosnia, I can tell by the look on people's faces that (generally) this means nothing to them. I'm never asked about the war; most Americans don't know about it or at least they don't really remember it. Often, people are shocked when they hear I lost both my parents and many other family members and friends - they claim to have no knowledge of the attempted genocide of another European people, half a century after the Holocaust and "never again."

It makes me wonder if the real message about the Holocaust is being taught - that is, the ease with which a "civilized" society can be led to mass homicide and depraved indifference to the fate of millions of people - or if our society has just made the Holocaust's victims 'mythic' and worthy of study and interest devoid of historical context and devoid of a relationship to modern-day activities. It's chilling, because from my point of view, it's as if the world has not learned anything at all. This serves neither contemporary society nor the real memory of Holocaust victims. It leaves my people, and many other peoples, utterly forgotten. And it doesn't bode well for prevention of those suffering in Darfur and other places, or for the next wave of genocide, wherever it may occur.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:00 PM on October 31, 2008 [21 favorites]

When I say I am Bosnian, I come from Bosnia, I can tell by the look on people's faces that (generally) this means nothing to them. I'm never asked about the war; most Americans don't know about it or at least they don't really remember it.

Well, not that this is an excuse, but for many Americans, notoriously ignorant of the rest of the world, the former-Yugoslavia situation was really confusing. If you asked the average American who the Serbians are, they may recall that Serbians had something to do with the outbreak of World War I. We had pretty much never heard of Bosnians or Croats, and the extent of most people's knowledge of Yugoslavia was that they once exported a really awful car called the Yugo. Thus, since it was confusing, unless one made the effort to read up on the history of the region and the groups involved, you kind of tuned it out. You knew that we had sent troops there and that basically something bad was happening, but that was the extent of it. It kind of blended together with Somalia and Rwanda and everything else that was going on in far-off places. I was a self-absorbed teenager at the time and hardly knew anything about the conflict until I read up on it years later. So it's an education problem. Everyone knows about the Holocaust and World War II because we've been educated about it constantly since we were very young, but not so much for other, more recent war atrocities.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:48 PM on October 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

It makes me wonder if the real message about the Holocaust is being taught

Such an excellent point. As a member of the generation born right after the war to the soldiers of that war, I know that while I was among a lucky few whose school system actually did teach the story of the Shoah (I saw Nacht und Nebel in school as a 6th grader, in 1964) what we were taught was that this was an anomaly, that it could never happen again, that it could never happen and HAD never happened anywhere else, that it was specific to Jews and that the only reason it happened was because all Germans were evil. I think this is one of the reasons that my generation had, and is having, difficulty excoriating modern-day holocausts like Bosnia, Burma, Darfur (shall I go on). It requires a huge realignment of a paradigm learned from the heroes of our childhoods. That Americans let it happen then, and we are letting it happen now, that Germans no less than anyone else are susceptible to political and social manipulation (Sarah Palin, anyone?), that education must be free and honest or we are feeding our children propaganda rather than knowledge, and that the definition of a class of people as the Evil Other must be constantly guarded against. It is the thing that terrifies me the most about the current political climate in this country.

So, yes, Dee X. We learned exactly the wrong lessons from the Holocaust, namely, nothing at all.
posted by nax at 6:27 PM on October 31, 2008

And scholarly treatments of the Shoah should strive to treat it not as a unique event, but as near the extreme end of a very broad ethical continuum.

One of my best teachers taught me this. I find most people around me don't think this way, though. It's very disturbing. I have no doubt it could happen again, all too easily, to a different group of people next time. I know smaller versions of it already happen, but I mean I still think something as brutally large and unquestioningly systematic could happen again.
posted by Tehanu at 7:18 PM on October 31, 2008

A survivor spoke at one of my cousin's schools a while back. I went to hear her speak. I didn't think high school kids would get it. But I wanted to listen. I've met several (survivors) and I find I never have anything to say to them.

I do mention having served, and my bit role in some of the things going on in the world. Seeing similar to what they went through. Usually they tell me that's important. Typically when we part I feel I could have done more. Or I could still be serving. Something. But I don't really know.

It's a tough thing to come to grips with. I'm not at all saying being a victim is easy. But at least you know what to do, know you have to tell people about it.

And that's what struck me about her speaking. See you look at t.v. and think that's what's going on. High school students are snarky, indifferent, self-absorbed, etc.
But that isn't reality at all.

She was speaking at the end of the day to an assembly. She was near the end of her story, but I could tell she had more than a few minutes to go.
The bell rang. And not one person stirred. Not a student moved at all. They sat there, well after the time for them to leave, listening to her.

When she finished they gave her a standing ovation. Some students went down to speak to her. Some were teary eyed. Even guys. And they hugged her. And those were high school students.
That's reality.

Maybe Orwell's right that folks can sleep at night because rough men are ready to do violence on their behalf.
But the reason they're ready, the reason those folks go to sleep at night and get up in the morning to go to work are kids like that.
As long as we remember that those kids are there, and that they listen, we'll have a future.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:29 PM on October 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is an incredible thread, thank you everyone.

There are mention about the passing away of the witnesses and survivors of this tragedy and how it makes it easier for Holocaust deniers to continue their denial. But, are there Inquisition/Witchhunt deniers? Are there anyone extant who can reasonably deny that there was great injustice done in the name of religion in the past? The holocaust is an indelible and undeniable part of human history - perhaps with the passing of it's survivors and witnesses, so too will pass away those who were responsible or sympathetic.
posted by porpoise at 10:46 PM on October 31, 2008

Are there anyone extant who can reasonably deny that there was great injustice done in the name of religion in the past?

There are certainly people who love to claim that the Crusades were entirely justified, bought about by the Evil Muslims themselves.

There are likewise a lot of weasel words written about the Inquisition, and I read a pop-history book a few years ago that mentioned in passing that the extermination of the Cathars was a war of self-defence.
posted by rodgerd at 12:19 AM on November 1, 2008

For everyone worried about the consequences of losing the people who remember the Holocaust, fear not. We can take solace in our generation remembering when the Anglos came and butchered them for oil.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:44 AM on November 1, 2008

I used to burn with selfish, arrogant pride that I would never stoop as low as to become a good German. Then, I was just happy I never had to face the choice. Now, I'm just happy that the atrocities being committed in my name are out of sight.
posted by fullerine at 3:27 AM on November 1, 2008

It's hard for me not to have some sense of cynicism about the way the Holocaust is treated. It's astonishing to me to realize that the genocide I lived through, only about 15 years ago, is mostly forgotten.

DeeX - Please understand I have the deepest respect for what you went through and I don't mean to detract for that. I'll never know your personal pain, or at least I pray I never will. I'm sorry for that.

That said, the Bosnian War was just that - it was a war. There were Serb, Croat, and Bosnian armed forces - military efforts from all 3 sides. Correct me if I'm wrong but this is how I remember it (it may be mostly forgotten but not by me). In the end, the International Court of Justice found the war's nature to be international. Granted, the finger was pointed at the Serbs for failing to prevent genocide, and genocide is exactly what happened to your people, as I understand it, but you need to maintain some perspective. There was no organized military response on the part of the Jews in the European theater in WW2. It was no war - not in any way between the Nazis and Jews. It was an extermination. And while it was genocide, it was one of the most extreme types of it in the history of our species. That's why it has its own unique name.

Approximately 100,000 people died in the Bosnian War (civilians and military casualties). Approximately 65,000 of those were Bosniaks.

Approximately 6,000,000 Jews were executed as part of The Final Solution to the Jewish Question. If you include other groups of people who were also persecuted, that number almost doubles.

So, it might be hard for you to stave off that cynicism, and I understand why. But I'd still encourage you to fight it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:31 AM on November 1, 2008

On balance, though, I'd favor a little less self-congratulatory fetishization of the Holocaust as a past event and a little more engagement with the horrors being done today.

I also think it's worth noting that the far-right took nearly 30% of the vote in Austria this year. For a quick dose of demoralization, follow-up this FPP with some of the late Joerg Haider's views on the SS.

And the real horror isn't that essentially "reformed" Nazi parties are back in power in Europe, but that they are no longer being shunned and ostracized by the mainstream. They've slithered their way back into legitimacy. It's enough to make you sick. The last man from Treblinka may still be alive, but his cause is already lost.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:34 PM on November 1, 2008

This is one of the most disturbing things I have ever read; I cannot recommend it to anyone, exactly, but I do think that it is worth reading.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:13 PM on November 1, 2008

@allkindsoftime: bravo. thanks for putting things into perspective.
posted by falameufilho at 12:38 AM on November 2, 2008

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