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Friday, June 12, 2009

Holocaust

Not long ago, I read PRIESTBLOCK 25487, the concentration camp memoir of Fr. Jean Bernard. Many people (especially those who say the Catholic Church didn't do anything to help the Jews in WWII) fail to realize that THOUSANDS of Catholic and other Christian clergy suffered the camps and were brutally murdered along with our MILLIONS of Jewish brethren. This book details this reality, through the eyes of one who survived...barely.

I am reproducing here a section from PRIESTBLOCK, because tonight, I watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. This passage may reveal the juxtaposition provided first by an unrelated book...and the movie about friendship in the tyranny of brutality.

Once the door upstairs creaks.

Like a flash I have the axe in my hand and am splitting wood. But nobody comes. I can't see the door, since the stairs go around a corner.

Then from upstairs I hear a small child's voice: "Mister, are you there?"

I am incapable of describing the impression this voice made on me. A greeting from another world! Did such a thing still exist?

At the same time I felt horribly afraid that someone might find me talking to this child...

I still can't see to the top of the stairs and am very careful not to take even one step.

"What are you doing here?" --My tone of voice was intended to be harsh, but I didn't succeed very well.

"You won't tell my mommy, promise?"

"Go back to your mother right now! You'll get dirty down here!"

The little girl went but called back through a crack in the door: "I'll come back tomorrow!"

The next day I was just on my way upstairs with a pail of ashes when I heard a woman's shrill voice calling, "Mathilde, where are you going?"

"To talk to the nice man," the little girl answered.

My heart skipped a beat. What would happen now?

Nothing happened. The girl started down the steps and no one interfered. So the mother didn't mind!

I heaved a sigh of relief.

I never saw the child. On each visit she would push the door open and sit down on the upper steps; then a lively conversation developed between the two of us that was like a ray of light from heaven for me. I told the little girl the most wonderful stories. And thawed in the process myself. I rediscovered my faith in beauty and purity, in innocence and love.

It was all right with me that I never got a glimpse of her. Perhaps she wore long braids, even worse them coiled snail-fashion over her ears, or had some other feature of the master race. As it was I could picture her to myself as the epitome of everything amiable, a messenger from that better world in which I could hardly believe anymore.


It was this scene I had in my mind's eye as I watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. From the very beginning of the movie I was horrified at this very average family first in denial about what was really happening, and then having to face what was really going on in the "farm" next to their house. The prisoner who peeled potatoes, as it turned out, was really a doctor, and in his short conversation with Bruno, I saw the scene from Priestblock.

I saw a human being being treated as an animal, and yet, when the child of the enemy State was in need, he ran to his side and cared for him as though he was his own son. The very normal conversation between an innocent 8 year old and this kind man was a delight, and the film captured the glimmer of hope from him as he looked up, slightly smiling at Bruno's quip. It was a scene parallel to Fr. Bernard's recounting of the little girl who came to converse with him as he worked in the Officer's house.

I held my breath when Bruno's mother arrived and sent the child away. It was as though she wasn't sure how to act. I pleaded with her to say something, to recognize what had happened, and thus the very humanity of the man who had looked out for her son even though it wasn't his "job" to do so. There was an extended moment, wondering whether she would berate the man, get her husband or another soldier, or simply ignore him. As she softly said, "Thank you", I was flooded with relief and gratitude, and hope. I was reminded that there were those who knew what was happening, and disagreed with it, working on their own to figure out how to hide their allegiance to morality from the State that wanted to dictate and enforce an agenda so contrary to natural law and the dignity of humanity.

As the movie progressed, the full horror of what was happening behind the walls surfaced, and even Bruno was given a glimpse. The propaganda being fed to the two children (Bruno and his sister) was absolutely demonic, and yet, one could see Bruno resisting what he was being fed, even as his sister gave herself to it completely.

I'm not going to say anything further about this movie. The ending is shocking, as it should be, for no one should walk away from it without having to face the reality of what happened in Hitler's camps.

In college we read Elie Wiesel's Night for one of our courses, and I'd long ago read The Diary of Ann Frank. Books on this topic abound, from the driest court documents to the most gruesome memoirs. As well they should. And there are still stories and testimonies we will never hear, for who can speak for the experience of the dead?

This is something we should NEVER forget. This very week, a crazed idiot entered the Holocaust Museum and opened fire. As I understand it, he didn't believe the Holocaust ever happened.

How anyone could be in such denial of a well-documented and systematic slaughter of thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings is beyond me.

And yet, we still live in such times. We still live in the age of denial, where people witness or are a part of the violation of civil rights, and anyone who speaks up is condemned. Genocide still happens, around the world. I've written before of the pogroms in India that began last August, wiping out the Christian population in several states. Where I live, there are many Somalian refugees, having fled their own extinction to seek a new home where they could perhaps survive.

Tonight, in watching this movie, I prayed for all those souls who were lost in the camps, and I wondered...how long before the anti-Christian climate in the United States slips that far?

There are some who will read this and ridicule me. The average German and Polish citizen who recognized what was happening were ridiculed, too...just before they were hauled off to the camps to be slaughtered along with the people they sought to defend.

The Fuhrer and his minions tolerated no dissent.

The reality is that the Holocaust happened, and it will happen again because human nature never seems to learn. When the face of the Fuhrer changes, people stick their heads in the sand so as to avoid ever denouncing the actions of their idol. That's why it's SO IMPORTANT to understand and recognize what happened at the hands of the Nazis and the blind acquiescence of the average people who refused to speak up. We must recognize those who risked their lives to speak up...and often lost them. We must recognize the ongoing ability of man to brutally redefine what "humanity" means, in order that his own selfish and demonic agenda be pushed and made to be "acceptable" or at least rendered morally "neutral."

Everyone should read these books and see this movie. And never, ever, forget.
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2 comments:

SQUELLY said...

I visited Auschwitz this year- including the cell of Max Kolbe. Deeply moving. Thanks for this post

LauraAnne said...

When I was a teenager (around age 16-17) I went on a trip with the German club at my HS to europe. It was a whirlwind tour, never staying long in one place.

One place we did visit was Dauchau. I remember that we were typical kids. We'd learned about the Holocaust in school, but it was still an abstract, intellectual knowledge. We were young and impervious.

On the trip TO the camp, we were typical teenagers: laughing, talking, eating, cracking jokes, picking on each other. Once we got there and walked down the corridor formed by barbed wire fences and actually walked onto the grounds, our laughter died away and we began to feel. There is a large concrete plaza there that they would line the prisoners up on for roll call each day. Not all prisoners made it back to their barracks each day. It really hit us like a ton of bricks.

On the ride back there was no laughing, no talking, no eating. I'll never forget what kind of an effect visiting an EMPTY, LIBERATED concentration camp had on us as a group and on me in particular. It is beyond my comprehension what it was like to be forced to live in such a bleak, terrible place.