Thursday, July 17, 2014

If we had blogs in 1999: Evil lives

In this entry from my 1999 Transatlantic Seminar journal, we spent half a day in Oświęcim, Poland, forever to be known by its German name that became a synonym for evil. We were treated to a beautiful spring day; I couldn't get over the irony of blues skies and mountains on the site of one of the most heinous chapters of human history. I tried to imagine the terror of the camps' prisoners. I tried to feel the souls of those who had perished. I tried to picture a snow of human ashes falling from that same sky, gaunt faces peering out from crowded bunks, stolid guards in clean, pressed uniforms performing the work of the damned. Instead, I had sunshine and chirping birds.

I still remember how I felt that day, the otherworldly pain, a profound connection to the communion of souls that is humanity. Is it possible to understand how the homo sapiens sapiens species can implement the systematic eradication of a group of people based on the coincidence of their birth, having come into this world with Jewish genes, or gay ones, or having had the grand misfortune of natality on the European continent at a time when it was trying to annihilate itself? I don't know. I don't know if there is any explanation, if there is any reason, any at all. What is it about human beings that drives us to such destruction, that lets it happen over and over again? It's no wonder people believe in the devil. The devil is real, and he is us.

As always, spelling, grammatical, and factual errors have been preserved. Today's comments are in red italics.

Begin journal entry

We took the bus to Auschwitz the next day, a beautiful day which shouted the absense of clouds from across the mountain tops that stood at a majestic distance. Like I said, I was learning to write. It wasn't always pretty, but at least I had gotten past the "It was incredible" phrase I had used to describe everything I saw during my year in Luxembourg.  Bus rides are such a wonderful way to see a country. The thing that stands out in my mind more than anything about the trip is the people with their hoes and shovels, working their small plots of land without a machine in site. Poland was very poor and the land still divided into plots, having suffered communism a mere decade earlier. Our arrival to Auschwitz was not what I had anticipated. I hadn't been aware that there were two camps, and I didn't feel the impact of being there until we got to Birkenau. When we first got to Auschwitz I, Bill wanted to take a guided tour. Guided tours are disgusting at a place such as this; I'm glad we didn't take one. I don't like guided tours as it is - they don't permit time or silence for reflection. We watched a film before going out. At the entrance to the camp were the infamous words "Arbeit Macht Frei." Posted above every concentration camp, "Work makes you free" is a chilling sight. Bill chose to clear phlegm from his throat about this point, leaving a large puddle of mucus on the ground. Long live America. Disgusting. We looked around the camp for awhile, went to a few but not half of the exhibitions. I grabbed some pastries and a Coke before departing for Birkenau and the lingering horrors of the extermination camp. These horrors woke up within me upon seeing the same sight that was the last sight from outside the camp's barbed wire that most Auschwitz Jews ever saw. The experience was frightening as I searched for an emotion within the same ballpark that could imitate what those brought here felt as they awaited their doom. It proved to be impossible as life's ironic sunshine tanned my skin and birds provided sweet music, perhaps as part of a calming peace that seemed to hang over the green pastures of the cemetary for the living. The picturesque mountains and the breezy trees took my sense of historical reality time and time again, but I only had to step into a bunk room in solitude to remind myself that the tales I had heard so many times had actually happened. The most telling and fascinating remenent of the ordeal was a painting on the ceiling by an unknown artists. "Konigsgraben" was its title. It will forever remain in my mind as strong and vibrant as it did the first time I saw it. And it has.

The most important lesson I received from the visit was the realization that the more I know, the less I understand. Perhaps it's not meant to be understood. But the sheer existance of such an idea is enough to make me wish I hadn't the capacity to contemplate it.

Krakow pics on left, Auschwitz on right

End of journal entry 

The serenity of the day was a statement: that this is what our beautiful planet would be like without the scourge of human parasites who collectively have no qualms about its destruction.

The Jewish Holocaust is not the first of its kind of tragedy, nor has it been the last. Did we learn anything from it? I don't think we did. Sadly, genocide is a common theme throughout history, and there have been many genocides since World War II. After the war the global powers created the state of Israel and the world war moved to the Middle East, where it continues to persist, as rockets rain down on Israel and Palestine, both sides intent on obliterating each other in the name of something they can't even remember anymore. ISIS is currently destroying everything in its path in the name of some ideology, erasing Iraqi culture, history, and people. Assad has used chemical weapons and mass destruction against Syrians who aren't of his ideology. Capitalist ideologues are destroying everything, too, but that is for some reason permissible, no matter the human price, no matter how many sweatshops are built or how many miners die over conflict minerals so we can have the latest iGadget, no matter how many people suffer cancer from unbridled pollution and chemical contamination or how many terrorists are created in our lust for oil, no matter how many Americans die because we refuse to limit guns or because we permit pharmaceutical companies to sell whatever they wish because it's making someone rich. Why? Why why why?

Ideology is a dangerous disease, the most dangerous of all diseases, of all harms. Nazism was one of a seemingly unlimited number of ideologies that have plagued human existence since our supposed evolution from inferior beings, but the horrors of the Holocaust are greater because it happened so swiftly, wiping out a significant percentage of an entire group of people. Everyone should have to stand on the soil of Auschwitz and think about what happened there and why it happened. Everyone should realize his role in it happening, even if he weren't born yet, because how it happened then is how it is happening now and how it will happen again.

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