Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

27th of January - Remembering the Holocaust on Mozart's birthday (2006)

    Art at Savignyplatz S-Bahn Station

If Heritage Radio Network looks back over the past year, there have been touched many matters which should not only to be remembered, but dealt with. Preferably this should happen as ongoing concern. For there are many, too many human issues in need to be resolved, while the task to uphold human rights seems to have become ever more difficult (Max Aufischer). The question is, therefore, how to initiate, support and extent such actions which can safeguard human dignity?

In the online magazine “are museums just digging in the past”, HRN brings an interview with historian and archaeologist Hirte who has undertaken it to recover items from the rubbish dump left inside the concentration camp Buchenwald by Weimar. He found items like make shift tooth brushes, stamps etc., all items which had been created by the prisoners. The interesting discovery he made thanks to work with artists. All others considered till then these items to be worthless i.e. just rubbish. The artists showed that they all can tell as well and even more interesting stories about life in the concentration camp.

Remarkable is how close that camp was to the very birthplace of German classics and the constitution of the Weimar Republic. It includes the legacy of Goethe and Schiller.

During the HERMES summer courses Pawel Kaminski, our HRN editor and contributor from Krakow, spoke with an Auschwitz survivor. He was deeply impressed by this man because he called Auschwitz an university. He learned that the worst thing which people can let happen is separation, for then ‘selection’ can begin. Selection meant in the Concentration Camp not to be picked for work, but to be forced into the gas chamber and therefore into certain death.

Just lately, it has been revealed that the German Bank was involved in the construction of Auschwitz. Jan Brueggemeier, coordinator of HRN, followed a clue about who had built the gas ovens. The oddest contradiction in what he found out was that a Communist who worked for that company installed the ovens. While one would except anyone following the Communist ideology could never do such a thing, but then the need to work for a living seemed to have been a much stronger priority. And even if Communist ideology and this reality of the Concentration Camps can  hardly go together, still Communism, in particular under Stalin, left also a legacy of camps behind. Millions died in the Soviet Union as a result of political persecution.

Both Hitler and Stalin reflect in different ways the 'insanity of power'. Both figures must have been so insecure, that they could not follow human reason when at the zenith of power, but drove things to their logical conclusion, namely mistrust turned into paranoia and then the liquidation of any opposition. They were not able to hold things together except by the rule of fear.

Many things come to mind when looking at what Auschwitz stands for. The Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum held last July 2005 in London was a replica thereof. It had a real freight train standing in one of the rooms; in another room, a model depicted the trains arriving at the special end station which consisted only of ramps. There the prisoners disembarked from the trains and were led of to the concentration camp.

There is, however, more to Auschwitz and the Holocaust when beginning to read the documents left behind after the camps opened. The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. is engaged in the pain staking process to verify every possible document. Out of these many puzzles pieces, once put together, slowly pictures emerge of what took place especially during 1941-45.

More questions come once various reports are read. These reports range from official documents to prisoners' letters. They show how the prisoners were treated or that they played theatre. Even inside a concentration camp, a whole range of activities unfolded almost silently, that is without interruption, in order to attest to a continuity of life.

All these activities ran parallel to the trains which continued to arrive on time with their new loads of prisoners. The strange thing is that the trains still ran even when everything else was already half or completely destroyed and the ending of war approaching rapidly. Obviously the trains ran on time as if some mechanical efficiency was being upheld to erase the last doubt this could not be done.

Constantly one has to think about concentration camps especially when driving on the autobahn. They do pass by these camps more often hidden inside the nearby forest. They were located there for a reason. The location was chosen out of the wish to avoid any detection from the air.

Since 2006 as year of remembrance coincides with Mozart’s 250th birthday, something should be said about the role of music. Carlos Fuentes in ‘Skin Exchange’ mentions that the Nazis considered it to be a good joke, if the Jewish orchestra in Theresienstadt would play Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ before being led of to the trains heading for Auschwitz.

Carlos Fuentes describes in his novel as well one German architect who had helped to construct Theresienstadt. He was the incarnation of what was then a way to fulfil the prerequisite for the Holocaust, namely to realize what Fuentes calls a ‘vision of loneliness’. Translated into architecture, the buildings of Theresienstadt were designed in such a way that the people could not really go upright and side by side down endless corridors. They were too narrow for that. Rather everyone had to go separated and alone. In order to pass through them, everyone had to create a single file. Such can be architecture: an enforced separation of people. It translates easily into an act of anti-solidarity with people who are in reality in need of care.

A most powerful testimony has been left behind by Margerethe (Grete) Schmahl-Wolf (1882, Vienna - 1942, Theresienstadt Ghetto) in the form of a poem* :

But my soul is free

I am lying here in sick bay

On wooden boards to hold me.

My body's weak and skeletal

But my soul is free.


My limbs are weak from lying

In a body racked with needs.

Theresienstadt is where I am living

But my soul is free.


What I once is forgotten.

I do not complain of what they took from me;

For I am reachig for the heavens

And my soul is free.


Theresienstadt Ghetto, August 29, 1942

(written two days before her death)

Translated from German: Ruth Schwerfeger

Source: Kunst au dem Holocaust, Deutsches Historisches Museum, 26.Januar - 3.April 2016


Indeed, if Holocaust is a reason to remember something of critical importance, then about the need for political awareness and for human solidarity. For no one should ever be seperated and isolated from the others, and thereby be exposed unfairly and unjustly to any possible abuse of power expressed through selection procedures which separate families and those allowed to survive from those sent to death.

Civic behaviour begins when parents do not hit an infant to stop the crying. The parents may be helpless and fear that something may be wrong with the child, but to hit and to demand some kind of abstract obedience, that is already the beginning of anti-Humanism.

The real danger of such behaviour is given since even a little creature can drive the parents to exasperation by crying endlessly. Here Janusz Korczak who ended himself with his 200 orphans in the gas chamber said when a child cries, you never can know if it has some immediate pain or else feels thousand years of prosecution. Frustration may grow also out of the realization of the parents that the child does not accept any authority. 

Fear of loss of authority goes a long way to explain an absurd reason for war. As demonstrated by Bush and Blair in 2003, the two justified the invasion into Iraq with the aim to topple Saddam Hussein because the latter did not to show sufficient respect of their authority. Bush and Blair wanted from him full compliance and total cooperation, both impossible demands for no one can be expected to give up fully freedom and self respect. Only a dead man can give such total compliance.

Resistance is something to be kept in mind for it runs through history and all societies like a red thread. For whenever power wishes to rule without being challenged, it will exaggerate this challenge into a threat and lash out accordingly.

Elytis in his famous poem ‘Axion Esti’ describes how a German officer commands one man after another to step forward. The men have been driven onto the land of the poison ivy and were forced to stand in one line. They all have been arrested as potential resisters to German occupation of Greece during Second World War. Everyone had to step forward and give his name upon command by the officer. When it was the turn of Manolis, he refused. The officer shouts once more his command. Manolis does not move. The German officer pulls then his gun and kills Manolis on the spot. Elytis steps here into the text and says rightly so while the life ends for this officer at that moment, the life of Manolis has just begun.

That resistance was shown by countless Jewish people for they did not give in to their torturers and guards. The world has still to learn the meaning of that resistance. Everything else may be too many words said for something which has no words. Silence is the message of Auschwitz, the silence of resistance against words being misused when turned into lies such as the slogan hanging over the entrance of the concentration camp: Work makes free!

Adorno said that the biggest danger comes when people do not only lie, but convince themselves as if they are saying the truth. The way the Iranian president and others deny the Holocaust, and they do so by resorting to science to substantiate their lies, that is an interesting case. It shows also how easily science can be transformed into a tool of ideology.

Today many are still bypassing that subject matter or as Reid said the 'conscience of scientists' has been twisted too much and hurt ever since 1945. It ended or rather started with the first nuclear bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That this problem is today connected with Iran striving for such a weapon while denying the Holocaust is, therefore, no coincidence. It is a rebuttal of Western ways of resolving contradictions while claiming only the Right to own contradictions, including the blending of the masses with the claim they wish to have a strong own state.

That rebuttal is linked to Chirac’s threat with nuclear weapons. It is repeated by Merkel who endorses such a threat against any potential terrorist state and does not end with the debate about use of torture since apparently the threats are so great that a ‘dirty fight’ becomes justifiable.

All that is not a good omen on a day when more sober spirits would want to light a candle in silence and think of those brave people who died in silence and this without having experienced solidarity from the rest of the world.

Hatto Fischer


Originally published by heritageradio under the category 'reflexion'


* Poem added after having visited the exhibition 'Kunst aus dem Holocaust' in Berlin, Athens 6.5.2016

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