Today is the worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day in 1945 soldiers of the Soviet Army entered for the first time the German concentration camp Auschwitz to be faced with the horrific picture of the survivors of Nazi violence. From that day on, the truth about what happened in those camps (which nobody wanted to take seriously) started its slow march into the hearts and the minds of millions of people.
During the seventy years that followed, every imaginable topic of the Holocaust has been covered from every conceivable position. We have seen documentaries and read testimonies of survivors; there have been others, who tried vigorously to belittle that catastrophe or to completely deny it or even worse – to exploit the Holocaust halo in “promoting” events whose impact is incomparable with the campaign to exterminate the Jews. It is hard to add anything that hasn’t been said before.
What’s even worse, many people are getting desensitized to those events – they see them as something that has happened long time ago, which has no effect on the life today.
Rarely can you see a point of view or interpretation that could shake up the long-established narrative and force us to see things differently. I would like to share such experience. A few days ago, while reading the Android app edition of the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, I came across an article about the controversial art of the Italian artist Alexsandro Palombo. He creates stir by drawing well-known cartoon characters in situations and environments that are often unusual or shocking.
The latest controversy involved the Simpsons family from the TV cartoon series. As you can see in the two drawings (published in the article) Palombo placed Homer and Marge, along with their children, in a Nazi concentration camp. I admit that initially I found the drawings too weird and over the top. Yet I kept going back to them – there was something dark and haunting in those images.
“The Simpsons” is a satirical show. It uses laughter, jokes and ridicule to tackle many serious social issues and problems. Still, the laughter is its main power – just watching Bart or Homer could bring laughter from almost everybody.
Yet when Palombo places those characters in the concentration camp, the laughter disappears and all that remains are five frightened people locked in the horror of hopelessness. He helps us see that horror anew, with intensity that destroys our routine way of thinking about the Holocaust.
After seeing that, even more haunting is the question that comes up time after time: Could this happen again?
We all have heard the phrase “Never Again,” which is supposed to show resolve and decisiveness in preventing anything like the Holocaust from happening again, but too many people are giving just lip service to that promise while failing to take any practical steps. Even in the times of Hitler, most writers and politicians missed the signs of looming disaster either because of naiveté or due to wilful blindness.
In 1938 the anti-Semitic propaganda in Germany dominated the country; the school kids were indoctrinated by books like “The Poisonous Mushroom” by Ernst Hiemer. It gives tips on how to spot Jews and explains the horrible deeds that they do to children. The book is so virulently anti-Semitic that I will probably be accused of anti-Semitism, if I quote it here. Nobody seemed to notice the rampant Jew-hatred, but they noticed the refined tastes of Adolf Hitler.
In the November issue for 1938 of the British magazine Homes and Gardens, we can read an article about Hitler’s mountain home, in the spirit of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous,” where the author can hardly hide his fascination:
“Every morning at nine he goes out for a talk with his gardeners about their day’s work. These men, like the chauffeur and air-pilot, are not so much servants as loyal friends. A life-long vegetarian at table, Hitler’s kitchen plots are both varied and heavy in produce. Even in his meatless diet Hitler is something of a gourmet – as Sir John Simon and Mr. Anthony Eden were surprised to note when they dined with him in the Presidial Palace in Berlin. His Bavarian chef, Herr Kannenberg, contrives an imposing array of vegetarian dishes, savoury and rich, pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate, and all conforming to the dietic standards which Hitler exacts. But at Haus Wachenfeld he keeps a generous table for guests of normal tastes. Here bons viveurs like Field-Marshalls Goering and von Blomberg, and Joachim von Ribbentrop will forgather at dinner. Elaborate dishes like Caneton a la presse and truite saumonée a la Monseignor will then be served, with fine wines and liqueurs of von Ribbentrop’s expert choosing. Cigars and cigarettes are duly lighted at this terrace feast – though Hitler himself never smokes, nor does he take alcohol in any form.”
Herr Hitler the vegetarian and his chaps are truly nice and sophisticated people; they surely will take a good care of Czechoslovakia!
It was easier to be fooled by the Nazis at the time – Hitler was also a connoisseur of classical music, the Wagner festival in Bayreuth had never received more attention than when he was in power. The Auschwitz “angel of death” – Dr. Josef Mengele – was an accomplished violin player.
Nobody suspected (or didn’t want to see) what those people were doing in the rest of their time. Pondering those difficult questions, Hannah Arendt came up with the term “banality of evil,” after observing one of the architects of the Holocaust – Adolf Eichmann – during his trial in Israel. Leonard Cohen managed to express that concept vividly in a short poem (All There is to Know About Adolph Eichmann):
NUMBER OF FINGERS…………Ten
NUMBER OF TOES………………Ten
What did you expect?
(From “Selected Poems, 1956-1968” by Leonard Cohen, published by Bantam Books, 1971.)
Fast-forward to 2015. The promise of “Never Again” looks shakier than ever. The Jews in Western Europe are subjected to persecution, scorn and murders unseen since World War II. This time the enemy is easier to spot. The enemy doesn’t hide behind high musical tastes and gourmet vegetarian food; they don’t promote the worker-friendly program of Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany.
Instead of Caneton a la presse, the new enemy gulps down shawarma and cheap kabobs. They don’t hide that they hate not only classical music, but also everything created by the West (while lying at the same time that they invented almost everything valuable).
They don’t pretend to bring better social programs – they honestly admit that all they want to introduce is a barbaric medieval law called sharia, which plans to make slaves of all of us.
The enemy is Islam (Islam as a political doctrine, not the Muslims themselves, many of them want to get away from that cult, which is harmful to many of them as well). Yet once again the media and politicians are blind, which is much more difficult to accomplish today. The Nazis committed most of their atrocities in camps hidden from human eyes. The Muslims openly attack and kill infidels in the streets of the big Western cities and proudly broadcast the beheadings and any other atrocities they commit.
Still, all we hear from journalists and politicians (with rare exceptions) is that the barbarism has nothing to do with Islam and if we bring more or those savages to the West, our lives will be greatly enriched.
We can’t afford to be wrong again…
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