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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The truth in the Auschwitz narrative




Bernd Naumann's book Auschwitz: A Report on the Proceedings against Robert Karl Ludwig Mulka and Others Before the Court at Frankfurt, was originally published in 1966, and had an introduction written by German-American-Jew Hannah Arendt. She informs us that readers of Naumann's book (an overview of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial) will only find within it, "moments of truth", allegorical with oases in the desert. Which can of course, just be mirages.

Had the judge been wise as Solomon and the court in possession of the "definitive yardstick" that could put the unprecedented crime of our century into categories and paragraphs to help achieve the little that human justice is capable of, it still would be more than doubtful that "the truth, the whole truth," which Bernd Naumann demanded, could have appeared. No generality—and what is truth if it is not general?—can as yet dam up the chaotic flood of senseless atrocities into which one must submerge oneself in order to realize what happens when men say that "everything is possible," and not merely that everything is permitted.
Instead of the truth, however, the reader will find moments of truth, and these moments are actually the only means of articulating this chaos of viciousness and evil. The moments arise unexpectedly like oases out of the desert.
They are anecdotes, and they tell in utter brevity what it was all about. There is the boy who knows he will die, and so writes with his blood on the barrack walls: "Andreas Rapaport—lived sixteen years."
There is the nine-year-old who knows he knows "a lot," but "won't learn any more."
There is the defendant Boger, who finds a child eating an apple, grabs him by the legs, smashes his head against the wall, and calmly picks up the apple to eat it an hour later.
There is the son of an SS man on duty who comes to the camp to visit his father. But a child is a child, and the rule of this particular place is that all children must die. Thus he must wear a sign around his neck "so they wouldn't grab him, and into the gas oven with him."
There is the prisoner who holds the selectees to be killed by the "medical orderly" Klehr with phenol injections. The door opens and in comes the prisoner's father. When all is over: "I cried and had to carry out my father myself." The next day, Klehr asks him why he had cried, and Klehr, on being told, "would have let him live." Why hadn't the prisoner told him? Could it be that he was afraid of him, Klehr? What a mistake. Klehr was in such a good mood.
Finally, there is the woman witness who had come to Frankfurt from Miami because she had read the papers and seen the name of Dr. Lucas: "the man who murdered my mother and family, interests me." She tells how it happened. She had arrived from Hungary in May, 1944. "I held a baby in my arms. They said that mothers could stay with their children, and therefore my mother gave me the baby and dressed me so as to make me look older. [The mother held a third child by the hand.] When Dr. Lucas saw me he probably realized that the baby was not mine. He took it from me and threw it to my mother." The court immediately knows the truth. "Did you perhaps have the courage to save the witness?" Lucas, after a pause, denies everything. And the woman, apparently still ignorant of the rules of Auschwitz— where all mothers with children were gassed upon arrival— leaves the courtroom, unaware that she who had sought out the murderer of her family had faced the savior of her own life. This is what happens when men decide to stand the world on its head. 
Palenville, N.Y.
August, 1966

Hannah Arendt's Introduction in: Naumann, Bernd. Auschwitz: A Report on the Proceedings against Robert Karl Ludwig Mulka and Others Before the Court at Frankfurt. NY: Praeger. 1966. pp.xxix-xxx.


2 comments:

  1. There is the son of an SS man on duty who comes to the camp to visit his father. But a child is a child, and the rule of this particular place is that all children must die. Thus he must wear a sign around his neck "so they wouldn't grab him, and into the gas oven with him.
    Gee that is out of Hansel and Gretel isn't it??
    The eastern European Jew was always a good story teller .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "the Eastern European Jew is a natural rhetorician, speaking in flowery similes."

      — Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution (London: Sphere books, 1971 edition) p. 581

      Delete

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