Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Shoah and Waltz with Bashir

Yesterday morning I met a Shoah (Holocaust) survivor who had been in Theriesenstadt and several other camps. He was clutching an old red book which commemmorated the systematic murder of the Jews in the small Polish town he had originally come from, Przedecz. The book was written in Hebrew and Yiddish, and I skimmed through some of the chapters written in Hebrew.

What amazed me, and stirred up old anxieties and unease, was the descriptions of the extraordinarily persistent, methodical and "dedicated" way in which the Germans went about their killing business even in the very last months of the year. I can understand how murderous rage can overwhelm one so that one lashes out and destroys in moments of madness. But from my knowledge of myself this is quickly followed by a shift into a different mode of being, where one emerges from the rage, looks around at any destruction caused, and experiences regret or fear, and the desire to do things differently. To sustain murderous rage requires an unnatural and difficult feeding of that rage long after the rage, having been acted out on, wants to settle and dissipate itself.

How could these German people keep on, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, with the killing, the shooting, the herding into barns and churches and setting the people inside alight, the gassing and the burning of bodies, the stealing of the valuables, the shoes, the glasses, the hair, the fillings???

I toy with several notions: that it was not murderous rage at all then, but a perverted sense of duty, of mission, so that long after the inebriating effects of the power of death over others had worn off, the "work" of ridding Europe of Jews was continued with out of a desire to complete an important if burdensome (as in boring, not morally oppressive) task - an extension of the supposed German work ethic and desire for precision and a job well done. Perhaps this kept them going with the routine of rounding up, clubbing, supervising the digging of pits, the shooting in the nape of the neck, the forcing of writing of postcards to family about how they were relocated and clearing up rubble in German cities, the stripping naked, the setting alight....

Or perhaps it became an addiction, that more and more was required to feel anything - screams and blood and bodies mutilated with bayonets gave a mad rush which had to be repeated over and over again?

All we know is that they (chose?) to persist with it to the very end.

And the contrast with Waltz with Bashir is very striking in this regard, where Israeli soldiers are haunted by the mere association with a once-of massacre they did not commit, and need to repress the memories, and then work through them, be it in therapy, or by making films to extirpate the guilt and unease. Are, or were, the Germans capable of a degree of disassoiation Jews/ Israelis have by and large not been capable of?? And what would that imply? That there are racial / national types?? The losses of such a theory may be bigger than any gains in terms of a sense of moraql superiority.

At bsome ppoint would like to discusss the unhealthy, somtimes adictive / pathological fascination with some aspects of the Shoah displayed by some Jews - this was first brought to my attention by a conversation with Shirly firths brother that must have ha[ppened in South Africa at her house in Linksfield in the mid 1990s. (To be continued im yirtze HaShem, Inshallah)


Batya said...

This insight came when I was a social worker in the ICU of a New York City Hospital. I had to make sense of grotesque sights such as a demented nursing home patient being kept “alive” with chemicals, tubes, machines. In attempting to understand the MD’s that took “care” of these human beings I realized for many feeling has little or no function in their processing. You see when cut feeling out – imagine that – you can do anything to anyone. This is what happened in the Nazi Reich on a collective level and people turned into brutes or perhaps even worse sentimental wimps like Goering who in the day could plot the death of millions of Jews and at night go home and sob over his dead canary. So I hold by the idea that there is no murderous rage, PTSD just a job to be done. Quotas to be filled….
Jungian analyst and writer Marion Woodman in The Crown of Age speaks of this phenomena and how it can manifest in a culture where the metaphors and symbols have lost their meaning.

Immanuel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Immanuel said...

Thank you Batya for your comment...I'm not sure if you are my beloved cousin Batya from kibbutz Tzora, or a different Batya, but either way I hope to see if I can factor in your comments, and tease them out, in a future posting