The essay is based on the presentation made by Dr Inna Rogatchi at the Jewish Cultural Heritage conference at the POLIN Museum in Warsaw, Poland, in June 2016.
A Catalogue of Paradoxes
Dr. Inna Rogatchi (C), June 2016, The Rogatchi Foundation
Essay based on the presentation at The JEWISH CULTURAL HERITAGE CONFERENCE, the POLIN MUSEUM, WARSAW JUNE 8-10, 2016
Top Illustration: Inna Rogatchi (C). Our Memory. Lithuania. 2014
Written for Israel National News
The legacy of Post-Holocaust is a multi-faceted phenomenon. It both objective and subjective; it both an origin and a consequence at the same time. There is no surprise that such complicated in structure, multi-sourced in the origin, changing in its appliance phenomena is full of challenges that we are facing daily and in an accelerated motto.
Due to the complexity of these phenomena, when looking into the post-Holocaust legacy challenges closer, we could see there a maze of paradoxes. Here, I choose to speak about five of the most essential of them.
PARADOX 1. REMEMBERING BY NON-WITNESSES.
The origin of this phenomenon is objective, it is time-passing. We all are aware of the standing fact that the Holocaust survivors are passing away, very sadly; and the age of those who were children during the WWII is very senior, indeed. My mother who would be 84 now, was 8-eight old during the war and remembered it as her quite-essential forming experience utmost deeply till the rest of her life; Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is 79 today, and although he was just a four-year old boy, he has the first-hand experience imprinted and engraved into his memory for ever. Scientifically, a child remembers the events of his life assuredly from the age of 5; in some rare cases, some separate events could be remembered well when a child has witnessed it being age 4 and possibly 3, but certainly not earlier. On this ground, the age of the children of the WWII who would remember the events firmly and consistently, is around 80 years old today.
And even for the second generation, we all are over 50, and in prevailing numbers are around and over 60- years old – which gives you a pretty solid food for thought and quite articulated call for action – for those of us who have the principle and convictions that not allow us to forget, to through away that very uncomfortable, highly disturbing but quite essential part of our psyche.
The challenge here is quite obvious and straightforward one: how one could remember the things that he or she did not witness? The challenge invokes not only philosophical dimension, and not even just psychological one – because you could have a suitable assumption for the first and a sufficient training for the second. But it does invoke neurophysiology aspect, as well; the one which borders on the edge of impossible.
The challenge we are facing today and will face in the coming years with astronomically progressing speed is: how will you make a person who has no clue on the town of Oswieciem, or village of Treblinka, or the realities of life of Jewish Warsaw in late 1930s, to remember, to feel, to comprehend with a qualities of a first-hand witness, what has really happened there?
This is not a theoretical question as our life today shows us with a crystal clear clarity. Without ours and the next generations’ ‘first-hand’ remembering of what has been done to our mothers, grandfathers, and then more elder generations of our families, in the enlarged meaning of it, to our all’ one family, we will endanger our humanity seriously.
What to do? How to meet this challenge?
I am working in this field for many years, and on all continents, practically. My personal response to that is honest, calm, and detailed recall of the Holocaust events in all possible ways: books, films, exhibitions, excursions, special events. My ‘recipe’ for making our memory on that of a quality of a first-hand witness is as much chronicle and documentation as possible; photographs, artefacts, subjects and objects, and of course, the oral history of the Holocaust.
Was not it enough of all of this being produced and presented, one could argue? No, it was not – I would respond.
Just a few samples of it from many: father Patrick Dusbois who is working tirelessly in Ukraine for the last 25 years collecting witness evidences of what has happened there still discovers piles of new materials, and has it in such quantity, he says privately, that it would be enough for several books. During my presentations world-wide, practically in every audience on all five continents, there are always people, and sometimes there are many of them, who are telling extraordinary family and personal stories. I am of a strong opinion that every single story of every single person experienced the Holocaust shall be recorded in detail. In this way only we would be able to preserve not just our memory, but our decency.
Art and reflecting is important for our comprehension of the Holocaust and our living through post-Holocaust, but I personally do believe that there is nothing that matches chronicle, the real people, and facts.
As a sample of such badly needed responses to the challenge of remembering by non-witness, I would call the recent, released the last year, return to the public domain of the Hitchckok’s footage of the liberation of the death camps undertaken by Dr Toby Haggith from the Imperial War Museum, London. As it became known, Dr Haggith was struggling very seriously for the releasing these tapes which Hitchckok himself had no stomach to work on. For making the public appearance of the revived unique footage possible, Toby Haggith was fighting as a lion, to his highest credits. But when he won, and the world just had to show it to us in a chain-reaction motto engaging all major world TV channels, we were presented with exactly what I am talking about here: an eye-witness account of the things which are indescribable.
And then you saw there the footage of the Germans, those ordinary citizens, not the ones in uniforms, who were paraded by the British troops through some of the camps, to have a look on what had happened just now, just there, in their serene alpine neighbourhood. Have you noticed from that footage on how the German population behave? They did not watch. They marched indifferently, stubbornly, all looking absolutely straight ahead, to their neighbour’s back of the head in front of them, not to the right, and not to the left where the victims of their brothers and husbands were piled off in a cadavered form, not for a second. And please do not try to tell me that those poor ordinary people were afraid, or shocked, or shamed. Because I saw the footage many times, examining it in detail. They were not interested. Period. Not at the day, and not at any other given day all five and a half years of the ongoing crime again humanity committed so enthusiastically by so many of them.
Thanks to the Toby Haggith’s effort, seventy years on, we all were placed into the May 1945 days of the liberation of the hideous Nazi death camps. We were injected with that rapidly vanishing witness’ memories in a powerful but also measured and thoroughly thoughtful way. Anyone who saw these films, even by chance, of any age and in any country, hardly would forget – such is mechanics of human psyche and memory. And here is an exemplary response to that very serious challenge, on how non-witnesses could be helped to remember.
PARADOX 2. TAKING SIDES WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING.
This is an interesting and deep consideration and concern to which I am indebted to my friend great Karel Schwarzenberg, the one of the last scions of humanity among us, in my perception.
Recently, long-termed Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, current Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Czech parliament, the mentor of Vaclav Havel and the first ever Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights after the fall of the Iron Curtain, has told me: “The one of the most overseen phenomenon of the post-Holocaust was that even when the German youth, after decades of stoned silence by their families, has learned something about the horrors committed by their fathers and grandfathers, thousands and thousands of young people has rejected those horrific deeds – and the both generations of their families with it – without real understanding of what had had happened; what has been committed, how, by whom, why, what for, how it all had been orchestrated, who did accomplish these hideous crimes in entire Europe and for what purposes. This core moment – rejection without real deep understanding – was a crucial gap which has echoed in many ways and forms not only back in 1960s, but also all the decades since then. And if we would not do something about it now, it will be the case tomorrow, too”. I cannot agree more with the one of the great humanists of our times.
The nature of this paradox is that people are more often than not are inclined to jump into the taking sides without real understanding of the processes they are identifying with, or opposing to.
The application of that known psychological and social phenomenon to the post-Holocaust issues is illustrious. The reality in which thousands of people in Germany and elsewhere jumped to the quite natural and understandable rejection of the deeds of their fathers and grandfathers turned out to be far more complicated and shallow that one could expect. Those thousands of people acted impulsively and on the right direction, but they did lack the knowledge, the understanding, the detail. They also lacked analysis, statistics, chronology which would allow them to see the process of its origination and development – thus to bring the real understanding of what Nazism really was, why it has become so devastatingly successful, and why it has to be rejected.
This is this very lack of understanding has led, in fact, to repetition of many of the a la Nazism sub-phenomena that we are witnessing today. It has made the repetition easy. Today, those sub-phenomena are mushrooming and re-appearing as if nothing ever happen. The most recent sample of many is the presidential elections in Austria, and how extremely close to the victory there has become the leader of the Austrian extreme right-wing far-nationalists. Did not Vienna have got enough of them?..
The other telling samples are the massive neo-Nazi organisations and movements in Hungary, Poland, Greece, not to speak about Germany itself – it is all there, again, as nothing ever happened, despite the fact that all those countries did know the Nazi evil to the face, and very painfully so.
Where from the modern and current neo-Nazism gets its nourishment, so to say? How on the earth it has become not just possible, but also officially and serenely acceptable that a regular norm of copyright is applied to such manual for evil-in-action as Mein Kampf? Why we never learn? Because many of us never bother to understand.
With Mein Kampf, quite expectedly, just a few weeks after the publication of ‘a careful’ edition with commentaries, the first one after a 70-year’ ban in Germany, there are the line of rapidly appearing eager German publishers who are about to start to produce ‘a genuine’ Adolf’s product, not bothering with any commentaries, of course. They will be hitting the market any day now, and the German ever slow legislation – which was good 70 years late to bring to court-rooms as many, as 90% of the Nazi criminals – just think about this fact along – is ‘thinking about examining the legality of the publishers’ intentions’. If the subject would not be Mein Kampf, it would make a good joke, indeed.
There was no precedent before the Nuremberg Tribunal, but there has become the one after it. In the very same motto, there could be no precedent in the super-state of Bavaria for freezing a copyright indefinitely, but there could become one if the question is the manual for the crimes against humanity written by the premium cannibal among the Homo Sapienses. Why no one among the people who were able to act in this only possible way, did not do it?
The issue with the effective ban of Main Kampf indefinitely has to be dealt with, there are the ways of the international law to do it, and it should be done without any further delay. Otherwise, the numbers of the neo-Nazis in Europe will be rising up rapidly and very soon.
One could argue on the matter that Mein Kampf has been all the time available in the USA in English, that you are not preserving good by barriers, etc. We are hearing these songs all the time.
Those arguments are not justified, in my opinion. I do think that after the Holocaust, it is absolutely clear that Mein Kampf has no right for existence, in USA or anywhere else. And yes, sometime, we have to put barriers before evil, and you have to be firm in doing it, otherwise good will be defeated. As it was, so awfully obviously, from 1933 through 1945.
All these recent realities of a strong recovering of neo-Nazism, all these manifesting repetitions of the murky past has become possible not only and just due to a human nature which does not like learn much, really, and loves to repeat its own mistakes. That vicious and very dangerous repetition to large extent has become possible because of the phenomenon of taking sides in 1960s and 1970s without scrupulous understanding of the processes of the ultimate success of Nazism back in 1930s and 1940s. Then thousands of people who were ashamed or indignant of their fathers’ crimes during the Holocaust did not come to think that it was necessary to analyse it in painful and meticulous detail.
Can we respond to this serious challenge? We surely can. We can start to implement the analyses of the process of the Nazism success story as a mandatory part of our Holocaust and the WWII curriculum in modern history, starting from the schools and continuing in colleges and further on in universities.
I do think that the very product of our education on Holocaust has to change; it has to become much more analytical, deeper and multi-sided, and we must waste no time in the implementation of this new approach. We have lost quite a lot of time in teaching the understanding of the core of Nazism already.
PARADOX 3. UNDERSTANDING BY CORRESPONDENCE.
How can one understand the total annihilation of millions without crime, and reason? It is quite clear that without UNDERSTANDING of the process and what’s beneath it, the progress of our society on the way of securing humanity would not be possible as such.
For many years, there has been consensus among the educators in many countries that the trips to the Nazi camps are the most efficient, if not only, mean of such education, the source of ‘antidote’ to the hideous crimes of blatant racism and violent anti-Semitism.
To the surprise of many, nowadays some educators started to debate the necessity of such trips. They are coming with various arguments, most of them are financial and managerial ones – and none of it is serious. The produced reasoning is just a pretext to quit the trips. Some teachers and managers of the schools, surprisingly being from Israel, are seemed to be bored with ‘the routine’. In my opinion, there hardly can be anything more short-sighted, egoistic and simply shameful on behalf of a teacher than his or her refusal to take his pupils to the Nazi camps, irrelevant of the reasoning.
If these decisions will be implemented, it would have double-firing effect and double-edging consequence: with abortion of such trips, we would deprive new generations of an unique possibility to see by their own eyes at least the places, and to be explained and shown alive some of the circumstances in which the victims of the Shoah had been treated and exterminated. Being unable to seeing the places of the mass extermination, new generations will grow more and more distant and aloof to the Holocaust theme and meaning very rapidly. It is extremely unfortunate and in my opinion, dangerously wrong decision by the part of the educators who has started their selfish and so very shallow campaign.
In a contrast with that inconceivable idea is another, the opposite one – the idea of making the trip to the Nazi camp a mandatory for every EU-member country, to start with, and their school systems. I am propagating the idea for years by now, and the responses I have met so far, are very telling. To put it very briefly, whatever reasoning is provided, the reluctance to make the educational trip to a Nazi camp by the prevailing number of Europeans is truly astonishing. Still, I have no intention of giving in on such principal matter. I will try to pursue the necessity of it throughout the maze of the European Parliament, and I do hope to make it institutionalised.
In the same motto as the trips to the Nazi camps are started to be questioned and doubted by the part of the educators, the March of Living is questioned in the same way, as well. We know about the cases – and the countries – which are struggling and fighting in order to prove the necessity of the March of Living, to continue to be funded for that unique and irreplaceable experience for thousands and thousands of youth. It is worrisome and unacceptable; and believe me, there are really some other good possibilities for saving money. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is attending the March of Living every single year, from the time of its conceiving in 1988. As far as I am awared of, it has never occurred to his mind to skip it – although one could just try to imagine what does it mean for a person who has lost his parents and almost entire family and who had been a child victim of the Shoah to get there repeatedly, a year after another. But Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau feels not only his responsibility to speak on the horrors committed during the Holocaust with appearing generations, he also feels his duty before his annihilated family and the millions of their co-victims. We just cannot abandon those souls in the ravines and dumps of all those camps. Why it is so difficult to understand it?..
PARADOX 4. BEAUTIFYING FACTOLOGY.
Revising history is an eternal phenomenon and an infectious ‘hobby’. It did not start with the Holocaust and it would not be ended with it. But there is a very distinctive moment in the activities of revising the Holocaust: those who are doing it are committed to beautify an absolute evil. This involves quite substantial, even ultimate, moral choice, too.
The efforts of the sort had started as soon, as the WWII has ended. But 70 years back, the mass of the fresh evidence, and the scale of what the Allies troops and then the world were facing, did not left that much room for the efforts to beautify the unspeakable atrocities. It was rather silenced, quite widely so, by practically all sides, for different reasons.
But as the time is passing, it makes us far and more far away from the deeds that once were regarded as undeniable.
Politically too, the straightforwardness of hard-core facts has been replaced today with ambiguity addressing us to ‘the deeds of the past’ and tolerating current very active efforts of re-writing the history of the WWII. Or keeping it hostage, actually – as the Russian leadership still does keep the hostage the truth about Raoul Wallenberg for more than 70 years now since he had been abducted by them in January 1945 in Budapest.
A very dangerous reality of today is that there is not just random efforts of some maniacal professors-in-denial as it has been the case of Irwing or some others alike, but we are seeing marches of the SS and Wermacht-veterans in the Baltic states for over 20 years by now, and we are hearing a total re-dressing the history making saints and freedom fighters from the Nazi collaborators in Ukraine today, in their inflamed, hasty and feverish search for new national identity, which is understandable – but why on the earth this new identity has to identify itself with the Nazi collaborators and perpetrators of unspeakable crimes?..
In the challenges like that, not only truth itself, but the pillars of morality are severely damaged, and it will have a very powerful, distortive and absolutely negative effect on the quality of society in a near future yet.
The fact of the day is that very unfortunately, we have now the generation formed during the last 25 years that saw the regular parades of the SS- and Nazi veterans whom they were prescribed to perceive as freedom fighters, as heroes. This is their objective, normal reality. They do not know anything else, any better. The utterly wrong choice of some and a weak position on that of the others has become the factor that has formed the objective reality for entire generation. This damage is incuperable. And, most likely, we would be having another generation raised on the new text-books that would represent the Volyn massacre as ‘a complicated matter’ and ‘an episode of the fight for the freedom of motherland’ in Ukraine which is a 45-million country in the centre of Europe, not 2-million Latvia in its northern corner. This challenge has to be confronted with full seriousness and without delay.
We are still here, we know, we remember, and it is our duty as of a decent human beings to oppose the efforts and policies of beatifying factology due of any reason, any at all.
PARADOX 5. LAUGHING AT THE HOLOCAUST
This is precisely because of the success of the active efforts to beautify factology, we are facing today truly unimaginable and simply shocking development in the post-Holocaust reality: laughing at the Holocaust, mocking the tragedy. This challenge transpires through arts, and I believe, it is extremely important point to address now, as this is having the place.
In 2015, the entire world has been shocked by the so-called art exhibition shown in Estonia that has been mocking the Holocaust in the most ugly and contemptuous way. Six out of eight so-called artists there were Polish. Some of them are known for their cruel manifestations of the lowest of lows of artists and human being for years.
It is also known that their exercises are accepted and exhibited widely enough – in Poland, in the USA and some other places. Germany, for understandable reasons, is declining and cancelling these attacks on humanity, repeatedly, in the most of the cases, but not all of them, notably. Venice Biennale which has lost the sense of reality – and taste – a long time ago, in my professional opinion, had accepted and exhibited some of it, as well. Those scandalous personalities had been also funded generously by all possible sources, artistic and state ones, and a lot of those are in Poland.
These repeated – and often accepted – efforts have nothing to do with freedom of expression, or any hint of art, however modern or experimental one might try to call it, too. These are the reflections of the new attitude to the Holocaust and its comprehension – not just denial, but the mockery of it, humiliation of the victims and the intent insult to millions, both those who were exterminated and those who are living today. They are also screamingly anti-Semitic, and thus are justified to be considered as an applied racial crime. This is the most dangerous and repulsive tendency which must be stopped immediately, and there is no more appropriate audience and institutions for that than the international educators, museum workers, art curators, all of those who are working in the field. In my opinion, we just cannot allow ourselves to get our own domain to be stained in such unpardonable way.
From the first day of that outrageous exhibition in Tartu back in February 2015 and until this very day, I never met a single person from any country, or profession, or nationality, or origin who would be indifferent to the mockery of the Holocaust committed by those so-called artists and their curators and organisers of that intent slap in the face of all the victims of the Holocaust, their families, and any other normal people. The only response I have met was a shock and terror of the people who just would not believe that such outcry has become possible. I did experience first-handedly that our public has been more adequate, more human, and more professional, for this matter, that we are – in particularly, those who has been supporting and encouraging those so-called ‘artist’ to commit a professional and moral crime, but also all those who went silent, or semi-justifying, on the matter. We do know what this kind of silence can do. We learned about it in the hardest way – did not we?.. But we still are trying to find an arty reasoning for a blatant outrage.
The challenges presented here are, in fact, serious tendencies in our society which has to be dealt with adequately and promptly. Today, we are facing dramatically new phenomena in both individual and collective psyche regarding the Holocaust that are challenging not only factology of the Shoah, but also an accepted human and moral stand on it. And this is the most vulnerable one from the challenges of the post-Holocaust legacy. We do have high responsibility to realise this and to make our own conclusions and decisions on how to treat it and what to do with this regard in order to preserve the dignity of memory. Because our memory, especially with respect to the Holocaust, is a living body which has to be protected, supported, and taken care of.
We do owe that much to those who were exterminated with such an efficiency and that pleasure of devouring beasts. I do believe that it is within a power of a normal humanity to prevent the clones of those beasts to re-appear among us.
Dr Inna Rogatchi is the author and film-maker, and the president of The Rogatchi Foundation. Her recent film is internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival. Conversations with Simon Wiesenthal, and her forthcoming book is The Post-Holocaust Legacy: Challenges & Responses.