Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land

I selected "Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land" because of the observations of Josef Mengele. The fact that this sadistic titan of torture lived to an old age in Argentina and Paraguay makes my blood boil. He simply changed his name to Jose. Was it really that difficult to catch him? Maybe someone should have tipped off the FBI, "He's the big tall guy with the thick German accent." Maybe capturing war criminals is not as easy as I imagine. I am still confused as to why Osama bin Laden has not been captured yet, on the simple basis that he is very tall.

Putting my outrage at injustice and the overlooking of tall people aside, this is a beautiful book. Sara Nomberg-Przytyk wrote about surviving Auschwitz and the people who did not. She had friends in Auschwitz who helped her, but also, she never failed to see inner and outer beauty of people, and this, I believe, improved her chance of survival. She described the pretty faces of fellow prisoners, her admiration of others' bravery, and she never lost her humanity in the chaos of inhuman acts. She asked herself whether or not she should tell oblivious new arrivals that they were going to be gassed. Despite her own struggle for survival and helplessness, she still retained as much compassion as possible.

This book also answered some questions I had about victims at Auschwitz who were not Jews. Apparently, gypsies were imprisoned in a separate camp, about 25,000 of them, and were gassed in a single day.

I wish more people could see suffering as universal and not assign different levels of suffering to different groups. This book is a moving and powerful testament of the human spirit because the author focuses on individuals. The reader mourns the humiliating and torturous deaths of innocent civilians, because they were human beings and deserved rights.

I recently watched a wonderful documentary called "Hiding and Seeking," about Holocaust survivors who hid in a Polish family's barn. The survivors' grandchildren turned to religious extremism and, at their father's urging, had to overcome their distrust of gentiles to travel to Poland and thank the family. One of the grandsons made a speech at a ceremony to honor the Polish family, saying the Holocaust made some people into angels and some people into monsters. I don't think it's fair to categorize people so harshly. When the grandsons returned home and spoke to their ailing grandfather about the trip, one of them asked if he would risk his life for that family and he said no. I suppose he did not learn fully from his experience, but that does not make him a monster.

In a grotesque land, being angelic is a tall order.

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