ESSAY by INNA ROGATCHI
WISDOM OF HEART AND COURAGE OF COMPASSION: A LOOK BACK ON THE HEROES OF THE HOLOCAUST
By Dr Inna Rogatchi (C)
Based on the speech at the Inaugual Opening of the Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity exhibition at The European Parliament – January 24, 2017, Brussels
Between Wansee and Auschwitz
At the time of the commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 at the European Parliament, on the initiative and with warm support of my dear friends and colleagues, Members of the European Parliament Dr Hannu Takkula from Finland and Bastiaan Belder from the Netherlands, and their great teams, we has launched the European Premiere of my Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity project, a series of fine art photography, essays and documentation material celebrating the outstanding people, beacons of lights of the XX and Xxi centuries whose lives were marked by the Holocaust.
As it happened, our event set for January 24th, was situated timing-wise in between two very meaningful dates in the history of mankind: an anniversary of the Wannsee Conference on January 20th; it was its 75th anniversary this year, and the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27th, which was the 72th anniversary of that crucial day this year.
While opening the exhibition dealing with the Shoah remembrance theme at the European Parliament, it felt to me that our commemoration has become the subject of impact of the both events mentioned, the horrible and relieving one; beginning and the end, or as it is in the case of Holocaust and Final Solution, rather premeditated end and miraculous beginning after the extermination.
Opening the exhibition, I was thinking on celebration of the miracle of surviving, of the strength of overcoming evil; oflife and humanism that did beat death and mass murder, genocide; and did beat it ultimately. Ultimately was the key-word there, to me.
Five years ago to the day of our ceremony in January 2017, at the commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the European Parliament and the 70th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, back in 2012, our good friend, the Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein said the following in his addressing: “ Just think about it: 70 years ago, a bunch of fifteen thugs got together for an hour and a half meeting in which they have sealed the destiny of entire Jewish people, with six million of them fell victims of that hideous crime which has actually started so utterly banally”.
I can see the point of my friend. And yes, very matter-of-fact an hour and a half meeting at the Wannsee villa could be seen in this way, too. There is certainly something deeply banal and shockingly bureaucratic in the way in which the Adolf’s decision to exterminate the entire people –whichever people they were – had been engineered there by Heydrich and fourteen more blatant criminals attended. It worth of mentioning, perhaps that eight of those fifteen thugs were Doctors of various sciences.
The more I am learning about the Holocaust, the more I understand that the Final Solution was not a trigger but a bureaucratic procedure to register the decision which was formed a while before. And the way paved towards the Final Solution by the Nazis had been very thorough and long one, importantly. The process of paving that way has started nine years before the short meeting at the shore of Wannsee lake. Nine years is a long enough time. The preparation for the process officially started in 1942, was on the way in a full swing for the period which was trice longer than the period of the action, of the extermination of the Jewish people. No wonder that it had been so efficient.
Those who would like to live with an adequate knowledge and understanding of history have to realise the process which was total and completely successful. That process included the Nazification of schools and the entire educational system of Germany; the Nazification of trade-unions; the Nazification of higher education; the Nazification of the Church – apart of the Confession Church that had been formed as the protest against it; the Nazification of culture; the Nazification of science; the Nazification of national registers, social services, and the society at all its levels and throughout all its structures.
It was the giant process of entire, methodical, massive Nazification of life in the country in which Jews constituted less than 0,75% of the population, and where the Final Solution turned to be not only logical, not only natural, but also quite easy and welcoming thing to do, a piece of cake, really, in the visioning of the Nazi leaders, but also in the actions and deeds of frightening number of human beings in the country of 67 million at the time. There should be no mistake: de-humanisators were dehumanised in the first place, to be able to carry on their sick cleansing.
Alternative for Oblivion
In my series, I am commemorating both Jewish and non-Jewish people. Those who became victims, and those who came to rescue, to help, to protest. That support often was vital then, and it still counts now.
It does count now because just a week ago, Bjorn Höcke, boss of the Alternative for Germany for Thuringia, gave quite a speech in Dresden, in which with all his charming openness he said the following: “We ( in Germany) have to take a 180-degree turn when remembering our past”; he publicly called the Germany’s official stand towards the country’s Nazi past “this laughable policy of coming to terms with the past is crippling us”. He also proclaimed that “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital” referring to the monument of the victims of the Holocaust in Berlin – which was not erected before 2005, by the way, waiting 60 years after the liberation of the camps.
As well, as the memorial museum at the Wannsee villa was not opened before 1992, waiting 50 years from the date of that hideous event, and causing, due to the perpetual delays and rejections of the memorial, the suicide of the very good man, notable historian Joseph Wulf who was advocating for the opening of the memorial with all his heart and was so desperate on the perpetual rejections and delays that he had took his life in mid-1970s.
As well, as the memorial museum to Felix Nussbaum, great German Jewish artist who did paint the very essence of the Holocaust and the Second Wolrd War as no one else did, and who was gassed in Auschwitz being just 39; the museum was not opened in his native Osnabruck before 1998, waiting 55 years since his annihilation.
These facts do give you the food for thought, does not they?..
The certain resurrection of the Nazi spirit that we are observing currently is troubling not only because Höcke is a senior national – and popular enough – politician in Germany. To me, it is troubling to the alarming degree because of this senior national politician of Germany is 44 years old.
He belongs to the generation of people born in 1970s who are detached from the legacy of the Second World War to more degree than the previous generations. This is also the generation which has become matured to become the leaders of the societies today. But his rhetoric is so chillingly familiar to anyone whose knowledge of history is elemental. And here is the core of my concerns today.
For a long time by now, I am repeating once and again: “It is not about ‘Never Again’.
I would always remember the footage filmed in Bergen-Belzen when the British forces forced the local population to visit the site of the camp and watch by they own eyes on the most horrible scenes around there. There was non-stop line of people who were moving through the path made for them by the British Army. None of them, just not a single one, was not looking on the scenes around them: corpses, more corpses, and yet more corpses. They were turned not only their eyes, but their heads off the direction in which the British liberators of Bergen-Belzen wanted them to look. All of them. So, I never got that illusion of “Never Again”.
For me, it is ‘Never Forget’. We do not. But we can see, in front of our eyes, that some would love to. And those ‘some’ are not that small in numbers, importantly.
Wisdom of Heart and Courage of Compassion
In my collection of works, essays and research collected in the Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity project, I was concentrating on two mayor phenomena: Wisdom of Heart, and Courage of Compassion.
Wisdom of Heart goes for Jewish heroes commemorated in the series, and Courage of Compassion goes for those non-Jewish people who were risking their lives by saving the victims of Shoah.
Wisdom of Heart is a concept of the Torah. It defines the most important quality that the Creator sees in a human being. In the case of the gallery of great Jewish characters whose all destinies were marked by the Holocaust, we can see that wisdom of the heart in any of them: Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and the others. Those people did not become bitter after the unspeakably horrible crimes against them, their families and their people. Despite of all that, they all behave wisely, patiently, and very, very human. They ever preserved their great sense of humour, and I know about it first-hand, because my husband and I were very privileged and honoured to know some of them personally, well, and for a long time. And some of them – like Marian Turski, who still is working tirelessly, as the Chairman of the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and many other important institutions, is our dear friend, too.
Regarding the theme of Courage of Compassion – it is very different thing to accomplish it, or even to be capable of it. One can feel very compassionately, but he or she simply may do not have enough strength, bravery, courage to act. As we all know, it is happening in 90% cases of well-intent people.
The heroes commemorated in the Champions of Humanity, non-Jewish people, all were incredibly brave: Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, Irena Sendler, Zofia Kossak-Szszuka, all of them here – possessed that stern courage; the courage that allowed them to save thousands and become heroic humanists figures of all times.
Those people did save so many lives; tens, hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands in some cases. One. One human life. Every single one from those saved ones. The number of the descendants of the people saved by my heroes far outnumbered one hundred thousand.
And even more than that – if it could be more – , the champions of humanity did resist evil, and this is the fact of fundamental importance in the history of human spirit. Resisting evil assures the decency of life. For those for whom such things matters, decency is both the sense of living and the highest prize of it, as an honour has no price. And the honour of human life is the highest honour of all.
Back in 1933, it took just two days for the Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer to start to confront the vile hatred of the Hitler’s speeches publicly and strongly. We do need to remember about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the people like him, to remember about them in detail and with full consciousness. I see it as the ultimate resource of moral strength which we might need in the case of the re-incarnations of the evil in our lifetime.
Non-Jews and Jews alike, those Shining Souls commemorated in the Champions of Humanity series they all lived and some of them, who are among us, are living accordingly to the simple principle: to resist evil as the business of their own. They all took it personally. And so shall we.
Inna Rogatchi (C)