The Holocaust is not romantic.

When I was a teenager, I read a book called “Death is my trade” by Robert Merle. The protagonist, Rudolf Lang, was closely based on Rudolf Hoess, commandant of the concentration camp Auschwitz.

It’s a book that made me pause and think. It’s a book that shows the horrors of the concentration camps under a different light because it shows them from the perspective of one of the people who ran the camp, who decided how many “units” they were going to be able to kill in one day, how to top those numbers, how to do even better. Those were no longer people for him but numbers to achieve, numbers to make people proud and pleased.

It’s showing the horrors under a the light that basically flashes in your face to remind you to ask questions, to not simply follow orders, to not stay silent.

That’s what it mentions:

Everything Rudolf did, he did not out of viciousness, but in the name of the categorical imperative, of duty, of loyalty to his commander, in submission to orders, out of respect for the State. In short, as a ‘man of duty’; it is precisely for this behavior that he is monstrous

—(Robert Merle, 27 April 1972)

His wife also asks him why he did it and when he answered that because if he didn’t someone else would have done it, his wife replies “But it wouldn’t have been you.”

Responsibility.

I read memoirs from survivors.

I have met people who fought on both sides during the Second World War. I’ve seen people regretting their choices. I’ve seen the pain in the eyes of those who suffered. I’ve seen survivors of the camps in my Junior high in France talking to us about what they’ve endured, making sure the history doesn’t become that forgotten place.

My German professor made sure we talked about it, that we discussed it, discussed the roots, discussed the way this happened. Because it did happen.

I also went to the concentration camp of Buchenwald when I was in high school…and I fail to see the romance in this place.

I saw death, I saw horror. I saw how humanity can commit monstrous acts. I saw a genocide.

Millions of Jews were persecuted and killed during that time. Millions of Jews died a systematic death during that time. The Nazi regime is responsible, yes. But not only. The ones who stood by and either helped in their silence or even helped by denouncing, by not hiding, by not trying in small ways to somehow help in Germany, in France, in Poland, in Russia, in England, in the United States, in the world are also partly responsible. And it’s hard to write that, because it always asks the question: what did my family do? what would I do? But at the same time, you know what’s worse? Being in those camps and dying. That is worse than the tough questions.

I haven’t read the book that actually puts a romance with the Holocaust as a background. I don’t know why the author chose to write it or what story she may have that made her believe this was not a big deal. That it was okay. That it was fine that her heroine was saved because she didn’t appear Jewish or that she redeemed herself by converting to Christianity (just writing those words actually hurt.)

I’ve seen how Jews were portrayed in the thirties not only in Germany but in Europe, in France. How simple it seemed to be to not portray them as people anymore. So that rhetoric of changing religion to be saved in the context of the Holocaust is appalling. A romance where the heroin really doesn’t have a choice in the matter, because well the guy could basically put her to death and no one would even blink is appalling.

I don’t understand. I sometimes hear “it was such a long time ago.”

Bullshit. Dehumanizing a group of people happens all the time. It happens now.

I don’t think I have the answers. I don’t think I understand how it affects generations after generations.

But what I do know is that I can’t stay silent.

Even if my thoughts are all over the place.

Because staying silent is the beginning of the end.

2 Comments

  1. I’m curious to know the title of the book you are talking about. I fully agree with you about the urgency to never forget. Being from France I also share the weight of guilt, even though I haven’t lived through these terrible times.

  2. Carrie-Anne says:

    I’m also curious to know the title of this book. The Shoah is one of my areas of historical expertise, and an era which I frequently write about, so I hate seeing it made into something it wasn’t. For that reason, I find Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful an insulting slap in the face, as well as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. There’s portraying something which would’ve been unusual but within the realm of plausibility under certain circumstances, and then there’s portraying something which is just insulting and never could’ve happened in real life, even under very unusual circumstances.

Comments put a smile on my face :-)

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