Monday, May 21, 2012

Death By Gas

The Politics of Hate

Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death.
Tadeusz Borowski, 
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, 1959

Tadeusz Borowski [ 1922-1951]: "There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.”
Source: Wikipedia

I recently read a book, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (1959) by Tadeusz Borowski, essentially a memoir of the writer's experience while incarcerated as a slave labourer, at Auschwitz and Dachau during the Second World War. When Borowski wrote these words, he was a 24-year-old man scarred by the war. Of the dozens of books I have read about the Holocaust (the Shoah), there have been a handful of writers who have written powerfully about their degrading experiences, including Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, and Primo Levi, who in my estimation best articulated man's inhumanity to man. Levi`s language is beautiful and rises above the ugliness of the subject, returning man's humanity to us.

The book by Borowski, a Polish writer and journalist, is as unpleasant and dark as any book on the Holocaust can be. It stands out for its simple stark language, an impassioned journalistic account of what took place. It does not make any apologies; it does not try to beautify or sanitize. It recounts; it explains. As an example, here's one excerpt, one of many disturbing passages from Borowski's book, in a language that captures the utter hopelessness of the time and place.
The lights on the ramp flicker with a spectral glow, the wave of the people feverish, agitated, stupefied people—flows on and on, endlessly. They think now they will have to face a new life in the camp, and they prepare themselves emotionally for the hard struggle ahead. they do not know that in just a few moments they will die, that the goild, money, and diamonds which they have so prudently hidden in their clothing and on their bodies are now useless to them. Experienced professionals will probe into every recess of their flesh, will pull the gold from from under the tongue and the diamonds from the uterus and the colon. They will  rip out gold teeth, In tightly sealed containers they will ship them to Berlin. (48-49)
These are the ones stepping off the transports to Auschwitz, stepping to the left and certain and immediate death by gas. Before anyone objects to the language, I offer no apology. Nor do I apologize for pointing out the obvious, a factual account that some want to deny, dismiss and even disprove. Yes, I know that the Jews were not the only victims of the Nazis, but the focus here will be on the Jewish People, since it was the Jews who were the primary victims and target of Nazi racist policies and hate. Its aim was to make Germany, Europe and the world, free of Jews, or Judenfrei.

Here's another excerpt from Borowski's book:
Trucks leave and return, without interruption, as on a monstrous conveyor belt. A Red Cross van drives back and forth, incessantly: it transports the gas that will kill these people. The enormous cross on the hood, red as blood, seems to dissolve in the sun. (38)
For the record, there were six death or extermination camps: Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau); Chełmno-Belzec; Majdanek; Sobibor; and Treblinka—all in Nazi-occupied Poland—whose chief purpose was to plunder the goods of its victims and and then murder them in an efficient way; gas being the decided weapon and method of execution. (It is important to make a distinction between death camps and concentration camps, which numbered around 1,500. ) In Auschwitz, the Nazis murdered 1.1 million Jews.

While historians might quibble about the actual numbers, the rounded figure of six million is near as one can get to a final accurate number and the most-accepted number by historians. It was also the figure established at the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1946 and confirmed later by Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official. The killings includes more than one million children.
The transports swell into weeks, months, years. When the war is over, they will count up the marks in their notebooks—all four and a half million of them. The bloodiest battle of the war, the greatest victory of the strong, united Germany. Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuher—and four crematoria
To place it in proportion, two-thirds of European Jewry were killed; six million out of nine million European Jews, equal to more than one-third of the world's Jews (then about 16 million). But the destruction went much deeper and wider than numbers, as important as these might be, can inform. It affected families well into the second and in some cases, the third generations. I come from such a family, and because I do, I am compelled to ensure that my father's family, all whom were killed in Poland, did not die in vain. As such, I feel morally compelled as a duty, so to speak, to write about it. It's not a pleasant subject, by any measure or means, but it's not supposed to be. Intentional death by gas never is.

Tadeusz Borowski, a Pole, killed himself, by gas, on July 1, 1951. It was three days after his wife gave birth to a daughter. He was 28.