Saturday, February 01, 2014

Holocaust and the imagery of ovens

Monday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, widely observed in Europe --- including Germany --- but not so much here.

It did not go unnoticed, and certainly was observed at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., but such U.S. observances as there are generally coincide with the Israeli observance, Yom HaShoah, on 27 Nisan (this year, commencing at sundown on April 27 and concluding at sundown on April 28).

You may remember reading about the Holocaust --- the systematic murder of approximately 6 million Jews by the German Nazi regime and its collaborators. Jan. 27 also is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces during 1945. An estimated 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau, built by Germans in captive Poland.

Jews, of course, were not the Germans' only victims; some place the total at near 17 million, including as many as a million Romani (or Gypsy) people, 200,000 people with mental and physical disabilities, 2 to 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 15,000 LGBT people, 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, a variety of mixed-race children and millions of Soviet and Polish civilians. All killed deliberately because they were perceived in some way to be subhuman.

Holocaust was that point in history when the vast tear in humanity's fabric --- located where the face of God once had been perceived by some --- became most evident, exposing only empty darkness; and the devil himself became incarnate.

I watch two related documentaries during the week, both available on Netflix live-streaming --- the BBC's 2005 six-part Auschwitz: The Nazis and 'The Final Solution," and Chanoch Ze'evi's 2012 "Hitler's Children."

Auschwitz and its subsidiary camps, most notably Auschwitz-Birkenau, were at the epicenter of the Nazi genocide machine. Auschwitz tells its story in excruciating detail. 

Hitler's Children focuses on the Holocaust through interviews with relatives and descendants of a few of the men engaged in the killing, most notably perhaps Rainer Hoess, grandson of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess; Niklas Frank, whose father was Hans Frank, Nazi governor general of occupied Poland; and Monika Goeth, daughter of Amon Goeth, commandant of the Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp, also in German-occupied Poland.

Other things came to mind while and after watching --- western antisemitism is alive and well, although muted now, for example, still firmly based (although it's taken on a life of its own) on Christian doctrine widely embraced until not that long ago and most disastrously expressed for 20th Century purposes in the writings of German (and Christian) icon Martin Luther, himself virulently antisemitic.

And as the Sochi Olympics near with a restless undercurrent of homophobia, the words of prominent Russian actor (and former Orthodox priest) Ivan Okhlobystin, who prior to Christmas, while speaking of gay people, declared, "I'd burn them all alive in ovens."

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