Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Image of cattle car at Auschwitz from The Legacy of Hope.

"We knew these men in black shirts. They had come at night, otherwise they wouldn't have had the courage. Most of then stank of wine, and if you looked them in the eyes they didn't like it and looked away. They were poor folk, too, but a special kind of poor folk; landless, not brought up to any trade, or knowing too many trades, which is the same thing. They were the type that dislike hard work and live from hand to mouth from one week to the next, always having to find new dodges to earn their daily bread. Too weak and servile to rebel against the authorities and the rich, they preferred cringing to them in return for the privilege of robbing and oppressing other poor folk - peasants and the poorer landowners and tenant-farmers. If you met them in the street in daylight they would be humble and fawning. By night and in numbers they were wicked and evil. They have always been at the disposal of anyone who gives orders, and they always will be. But recruiting them into a special army, giving them a special uniform and special arms is something new and peculiar to the last few years. Such are the so-called fascists."

- Ignazio Silone: Fontamara.

"It is man who kills, man who creates or suffers injustice; it is no longer man who, having lost all restraint, shares his bed with a corpse. Whoever waits for his neighbour to die in order to take his piece of bread is, albeit guileless, further from the model of thinking man than the most primitive pigmy or most vicious sadist.

Part of our existence lies in the feeling of those near to us. This is why the experience of someone who has lived for days during which man was merely a thing in the eyes of man is non-human."

- Primo Levi: If This Is a Man

"People sometimes ask me, 'Where was God in Auschwitz?' I believe that God was there Himself - violated and blasphemed. The real question is, 'Where was man in Auschwitz?' "

- Rabbi Hugo Gryn: Chasing Shadows

"I often wonder if when you start to burn books and scrolls and holy places, it becomes thinkable and emotionally and politically feasible to burn men, women and children as well, because you are in fact setting fire to civilization and you are creating spiritual anarchy."

- Ibid

" No one is safe when religious or ethnic prejudice is tolerated, when racism is rife and when decent, well-meaning people keep quiet because it is prudent."

- Ibid

"Who did it? Evil men and women who looked so much like ordinary men and women."

- Ibid

".... I know that you can only be safe and secure in a society that practises tolerance, cherishes harmony and can celebrate difference."

- Ibid

The Holocaust was often spoken about when I was a child. I was born only five years after the evil perpetrated by man upon man became fully known and I believe that my parents' generation never got over the shock of the revelations. As Rabbi Gryn wrote, these crimes against humanity had been committed not by a race of barbarians from some distant and unknown land but by people who looked like us, spoke a language akin to our own and who, like us, had provided the west with some of its greatest artists, composers and writers.

My parents did not realise how much I could understand of those whispered conversations and I lay awake at night fearing separation from them at the hands of some cruel and arbitrary authority. I was reassured and loved and I got over those fears but I grew up to understand one thing: that all it takes, particularly in economically uncertain times, is one persuasive leader and a flock of unquestioning fools to follow that person or - and this is perhaps worse - to be silent. In the words of Edmund Burke,

"All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing."
You may also like to read about this Italian memorial to Jews and others who died in the Holocaust.


Claude said...

Thank you, Pat, for your sober, thoughtful post, and your meaningful quotations.

Articles like yours, in newspapers and magazines, are very good as they reach a great number of people. We must be aware of the horror that happened, and remember it. And we must also know that there is still oppression in many parts of the world, and speak up for the victims. As human beings, we're responsible for one another.

That's why your post is so important, and appreciated.

Rosaria Williams said...

Beautiful post. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Great post about an important day and an important author.
It is important, not to forget the past to avoid repeating mistakes in the future and be aware of what is wrong in the present.
This is my own thought.
There is another great book by Helen Lewis "A time to speak" and it will be represented as a recital titled "Un tempo per parlare, un tempo per danzare", in the Modica theatre.
Helen Lewis died recently, as reported by Telegraph:

Whispering Walls said...

I visited the Holocaust museum in DC which is chilling and I think it's a good idea to have these museums to remind us of our own wickedness. Burke's comment is interesting and begs the question of whether there should be a right to silence in law.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Claudia. I agree that we must always be aware of what happened. As you say, we are responsible for one another. Thank you, lakeviewer. Hi, Valentina. Thank you for the information about Helen Lewis. I am going to read the article now. You are doing cery important work in bringing her to the attention of more people. Hi, WW. That must, indeed, have been a chilling experience. Yes, Burke's quote does bring up that question.


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