Saturday, 18 August 2012

WWII week: nacht und nebel

There is nothing more difficult to face than inhumanity become concrete. The dishonor, ostracizing, terror, torture, enslavement and disregard were unique in scale and system, but not without painful precedent and legacy, since it is the quality of dismissive otherness that empowers one group to do this to another. Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Romani, Freemasons, the Poles, the Russians, homosexuals, handicapped people, communists, anti-social types, political dissidents and other undesirables all could be stripped of their humanity in fact because it was decided with sanction that never shared it with the oppressors in the first place, on whatever grounds.

Why this was allowed to continue and to what extent the civilian population of Germany and the rest of the world were morally complicit is a question, I think, no one is equipped to fully articulate. What will people believe—not only that it is a dutiful thing to deprive another of his rights on such baseless grounds—the everyday struggle we have with our own petty judgments and prejudices are most certainly successors to all the strife and hate of history but the best any of us can do is strive to be better and positively influence others—but also the sanitized reports that enforced the euphemisms?
I wonder what it is that people want to believe or what is easier to reconcile quickly slips into truth and fact. Today, some former concentration camps are hallowed grounds, memorials to unthinkable loss and cruelty that are unflinching testimony. Like the words on the gate of Dachau, Arbeit Macht Frei, the inscription on the gate of Buchenwald is a double-entrende: Jedem Das Seine could mean “to each his own.”
> When the gate closes and the words are facing the inmates of this largest concentration camp near Weimar, that housed all kinds, the meaning could also be “you get what you deserve.” Nacht und Nebel is the moniker for the overarching Nazi war programme to eliminate all elements that threatened state security (“die deutsche Sicherheit gefährden”) through rendition (being disappeared—night and fog, the term is a spell summoning the powers of sword and magic helmet of Wagner’s Ring Cycle), and of course the existence of such detention facilities was an open secret, vexing with the constant disorientation of transporting internees all over occupied territories, separating families and neighbours, so no witnesses could give the same account for what was happening or the missing might be remembered. Let us hope that we begin to see through such cloaks of the lowest charisma and never forget that a share of humanity is necessarily a share of otherness.