Why do people behave so? Iran's new president, enjoying his ability to shock la western bourgeoisie,
has announced that the Holocaust was all a big fake.
Jews and American soldiers had nothing better to do at the end of World War II than stumble about empty factories planting false evidence of mass death and science experiments practiced by the all-too-sane on their victims' hearts and spinal cords. The hoax helped liven up a boring few weeks, I guess. Just filling up time when you're hanging around waiting to be shipped home.
I wonder how long we'll remember the Holocaust at all once the last few survivors of concentration camps have died. Experts -- no, I dunno who such people are -- estimate that there are "fewer than 10 homosexual survivors of Nazi internment camps still alive."
I'd say that until last month there were 11, but that seems wrong. Pierre Seel sounds like he led a life that was too complicated to be "homosexual."
"Pierre Seel, who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II for homosexuality and later broke decades of silence to speak out about the horrors he endured, died of cancer Nov.25 at his home in Toulouse, France. He was 82....
"Survivors include his companion, Eric Feliu of Toulouse; his wife; and three children." So said the Washington Post, as reprinted here.
"Arrested on suspicion of being a homosexual, Seel served six months in a prison camp before he was released and, improbably enough, drafted into the German army. After the war, he married and had a family and revealed nothing of his ordeal."
I hadn't realized that some actually managed to be (purposefully) released from the camps. (More than 100,000 were arrested for homosexuality, with somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 sent to the camps.) Seel was French, nabbed during the occupation.
Some bishop screeched about the evil homos in the 1982, and Seel responded with a book, 1994's "I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual." "On May 3, 1941, when Seel was 17, he was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured for 10 days.... he described how he and other suspected homosexuals were beaten, had their fingernails pulled out and were raped with broken rulers. Seel was sent to Schirmeck-Vorbruck, the only German concentration camp on French soil, where he said he was 'tortured, beaten, sodomized and raped.' He was forced to build crematoriums and to stand as the camp staff tossed syringes at him as if he were a dart board."
The worst experience, he wrote, came when German troops marched a prisoner into the center of the yard, stripped him naked and placed a bucket over the man's head. Seel recognized him as his 18-year-old friend and lover.
According to Seel's book, German shepherds tore the man apart, and ate him.
"'Since then I sometimes wake up howling in the middle of the night,' Seel wrote. 'For 50 years now that scene has kept ceaselessly passing and repassing through my mind.' After six months, he was released and conscripted against his will into the German army. He was sent to the Russian front and later was wounded in battle in Yugoslavia....
"In 1950, he married, and eventually had two sons and a daughter. He and his wife separated in 1978, and he fought a drinking problem and ailments caused by his captivity."
"As for myself," Seel wrote in his memoir, "after decades of silence I have made up my mind to speak, to accuse, to bear witness."
The queer scholar E.J. Graff
has written about another
who bore witness, Heda Kovály and her memoir, "Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968."
In it the author "tells of having escaped Auschwitz during a forced march at the age of fifteen; meeting and later marrying her childhood sweetheart, Rudolf Margolius; seeing him prosecuted and killed in Czechoslovakia's first Stalinist show trial; and thus of living through two of the most barbaric episodes of a barbaric century. Kovály's keenly observed, politically astute memoir offers intimate insight into how people behave under totalitarianism, how the human psyche can surrender to absolutism in the pursuit of beautiful ideals, how idealism can result in genuine evil (a noun I use advisedly) -- and yet how civilization can restore itself, even after such horror. 'Under A Cruel Star' has helped me think about the motivations and distortions of a vast range of political and social movements -- McCarthyism, the Iranian revolution and its aftermath, Al Qaeda, any 'radicalism' (left or right), and any movement that claims the word 'liberation.' Strangely enough, it has even taught me about the virtues of both skepticism and optimism."
Graff believes that it's Kovály's kind of personal political reportage that helps us understand ourselves. The survivor also adds another layer, that of ignorance. "Kovály impulsively screams at her overseer -- a business person who had paid for Auschwitz labor -- that she and the other girls could not be expected to work well while starving. Terrified, the other girls try to silence her, certain she will be shot. Instead, he pulls her aside and asks her to explain. She does, and he is visibly stunned. As she says later: 'That man lived in Nazi Germany and had daily contact with a concentration camp and its inmates, yet he knew nothing. I am quite sure he did not. He had simply thought that we were convicts, sentenced by a regular court of law for proven crimes.' When we ask ourselves the important question -- How can citizens let their government do such things, in their names? -- it's essential to know that the answer is, at least in part: they didn't always know.
"After spending only 20 pages on the Holocaust, 'Under A Cruel Star' moves on to what Kovály finds to be the greater puzzle: 'It seems beyond belief that in Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup in 1948, people were once again beaten and tortured by the police, that prison camps existed and we did not know, and that if anyone had told us the truth we would have refused to believe it.' And yet it happened."
The idea that a handful of nasty overlords could be overthrown and riches distributed equally was intensely attractive, especially given the psychic exhaustion of so many. "[T]he war had beaten the confidence out of Czechoslovaks of all stripes. They had been forced to live as slaves, terrorized paupers, outlaws, or humiliated subjects of a brutal occupation, scrambling to make it from one day to the next. Nowhere else have I read such a vivid parsing of how national shame, personal humiliation, defeat, deprivation, and perpetual fear can lead the thoughtful to abandon their senses and yearn to be perfect -- while the craven cloak themselves in the language of the good.
"Kovály is especially good at examining the mentality of the camp survivors. 'It is hardly possible for people to live for so many years as slaves in everyday contact with fascists and fascism without becoming somewhat twisted,' she writes. She and her fellow prisoners were tormented by having survived while everyone and everything they loved had been turned into lampshades and ash. They were too devastated even to stand up for themselves and insist that their former neighbors return stolen apartments, paintings, china, carpets. Living for the small everyday pleasures -- home, family, friends, music, theater -- seemed petty after such loss. To redeem their lost lives, they wanted to sacrifice themselves for a noble effort: creating a perfect future 'in which this could never happen again.' And so they joined the party.
"'Never again,' in this book, is shown to be a dangerous sentiment, a fundamentally religious belief, because it allows a vision of a perfect eternity to eclipse everyday reality. With the promise of a perfect future, who could be so petty as to complain about a few bread lines and shoe shortages, or a few moments of a hideously kitschy state-sponsored film? Silence was easier than enduring the endless self-critique sessions that spontaneous honesty could have engendered. But silence was the problem. 'It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant,' Kovály writes. 'Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of ‘understood necessity,’ for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth.'"
Was Hitler mad? Who cares? "Kovály concentrates on personal decency. For her the key questions are not about what politics or religion you follow, but rather, how you treat the starving deportee who unexpectedly knocks at your door, the social pariah who desperately needs medical care, the widow who demands that her dead husband’s good name be restored. Is your response honest and sensible, or fearful and full of excuses? From that, all else follows -- including the fate of governments."