Saturday, September 10, 2011

Auschwitz 3

How is this possible? This is about the only thought I can manage. All my circuits are on overload.

Many ask how could God let this happen, but that is not my question; Old Testament Scriptures speak to that. But man's inhumanity to man--how is it possible that men did such things to other men? Things that, wails God through the prophets, “never entered my mind…” How is it possible?
How is Evil able to inspire such evil?

The camp commandant’s house, situated on one corner of Auschwitz, lies just a block from the crematorium. Life with his family went on within the perimeter of its gardens as if the “showers” nearby were not gassing upwards of two thousand people a day. As if walking skeletons were not staggering back to the barracks nearby, crawling onto hay to sleep a few hours before an 11-hour work day, or standing all night in one of the ‘standing cells.’ How is it possible to sit down for dinner with your daughter after that?

In the showers, one block over, I could almost hear the screams of the victims. A Jewish star is scratched on one wall. Keeping my head down, I head for the exit. I am done. Undone. Fortunately, the tour is just about over, and what is left is outdoors. I can breathe again. I remove the headphones. One woman, tears streaming down her face, grabs the tour guide and chokes out her question, “Didn’t anyone know what was going on here?” The tour guide answers with equal anguish; I can’t hear her answer. I’m having my own hard time. And if we can't believe what we’re seeing with our own eyes, who would believe it from afar?

We still have Birkenau to visit, a ‘sister camp’ a short bus ride up the road, but mercifully, most of this tour is also outside. We stand in the warmth of the sun, the grass green and lush from all the recent rain, and are dwarfed by the enormity of this camp, though not many structures are left standing. Like something out of a movie set, the train tracks dissect the camp in two, and the station, which I recognize from films, is still standing. We enter only one barrack, briefly, to hear more horrors.

I ask the tour guide a question which nets me about a 20 min. response, and now we are walking and talking side by side, tour over. She has taken a liking to me and we stop and get more personal. Someone joins us and asks about the career span of a tour guide in the camps. “Oh you can work here till you’re 70!” she answers. "No," the inquirer responds. "How long do you last?"

She looks down and says “At first it was hard. Then I got used to it. Now, I have a little grand-daughter…and it’s hard again.”

And then we were on our bus again, headed back to the hotel. Was there any conversation, or were we all lost in our thoughts? I don’t remember, but know I avoided conversation when I got back, and headed for my room.

I cannot recommend the death camps I know they must exist: “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” Exposed, the death camps render visible the historical fact of the Holocaust. Go, if you don’t believe it happened.

Exposed too is evil on a scale that chokes the breath and causes the mind to split off into denial. I don’t like looking at evil. I don't like looking at the evil we’re capable of; we become what we look at. I don't like seeing how Satan can so deceive people as to carry on such atrocities, or to believe this didn't happen. I especially don't like facing the fact that I could have been one of those people looking the other way. Do you remember Schindler's breakdown when he realized he could have done more?

One Holocaust survivor broke down when he finally saw one of the war criminals brought to justice. He had fabricated a monstrous sub-human in his mind; the man who was brought into the courtroom looked so ordinary, the survivor recognized himself.

Yes, Auschwitz must remain; unfortunately, it is a dismal truth in our collective story. And God does not gloss over evil, but calls people to account. Justice will be rendered one day.

In the meantime I want to call fire down from heaven to incinerate it. I want to scrape this abomination from the face of the earth--pour cement over it, bulldoze it, blast it into oblivion, annihilate it--anything. What a blight on our planet.

I cannot wait for the day when God comes and does just that. When He folds all our stories into His larger story, and renders justice for this and every atrocity.

God help us in the meantime.

"There can be no poetry after Auschwitz."—Theodor Adorno, German philosopher and poet.

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