Day 14 – Auschwitz – Zack’s Reaction

by Zack on August 17, 2010

There’s little to be said of the site of such inhuman deeds – at least by me – that hasn’t been said before. But I’m going to record my thoughts here, anyway, because the followers of this journey deserve some reaction.

If there is or ever was an incarnate of hell on earth it was Auschwitz.

And simply visiting it’s location will surely not make the evil that occurred there any more real in one’s mind.

No. What I learned today is that for Auschwitz or any other site of atrocity to make any impact on one’s conciousness one must work for it. After all it’s easy to look at the ruinous pit that was a crematorium and simply mimic the display of emotions that one should feel. “This is horrible.” “I am sullen.” “Pure hatred.”

It’s much harder to actually feel those emotions.

It takes work. And it’s not fun work. It’s difficult and, like an actor attempting to cry on cue, it hurts in places that most people don’t choose to explore. And why should they explore it?

The depths of man’s depravity can often lead down trails of which there is no return. Isn’t that what Conrad was talking about. Or at least Coppola. “Inside every man lies a heart of darkness.” And what do we risk if we expose ourselves to that darkness?

That’s why we have movies. Schindler’s List does the work for us. Liam Neeson is the good guy, Ralph Fiennes is the bad guy. Cut and dry. Fiennes is the face of pure evil. And he’s bat shit nuts. Which, if you ask me, is a convenient excuse for evil that has so often marked the cultures narrative of the Holocaust and Naziism.

“These weren’t humen like you or me,” the narrative goes. “They were different; crazier; depraved; something must have malfunctioned mentally to allow these atrocities”.

But there was nothing crazy or malfunctioning in the minds of the men who so idiosyncratically designed meticulous mass extinction. They thought of every detail.

And worst of all, they knew what they did was wrong. When victory was dissipating and defeat was imminent, the Nazis didn’t lean on the strength of their convictions. They didn’t stand tall to the world and proclaim the Jews were a foreign body; a diseased body; inferior usurpers who had no claim to Germany and Poland.

No. What did they do? The dynamited the crematoriums, burned the evidence, and took refuge in nihilistic suicide.

This is a decidedly non-crazy thing to do. Look at any child who has done wrong. Does the child vehemently deny the wrongness of the action, or does he vehemently deny the action itself?

It is only the misguidedly righteous who cling to such absurd convictions. And only the mistakenly righteous who run from them.

What often gets lost in the popular cultural narrative of World War II and it’s legacy is the pure encompassing wrongness of the actions carried out by individuals who knew them to be wrong.

But Auschwitz, Terezin and all the Spielberg movies in the world can’t show you this. You have to show it to yourself, in your own head.

I did this. I dug into the depths of my own mind, put myself not in the shoes of the tormented, but in the place of the tormentors.

And it was terrifying.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice Cagan-Teuber August 23, 2010 at 6:25 am

Your description of your journey, particularly this post is more insightful than many I have read. I know you are making a film, but could you & Mike publish your journey in book form? It would be an amazing companion to the film.


Zack August 23, 2010 at 6:28 am

Haha, thanks for the comment of support Janice. One of my dreams is to write a book. But that’s probably getting ahead of ourselves. One project at a time!

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