Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Darkness and, Unclean

Darkness and, Unclean

Wide news coverage, here we are seventy years on from liberation of Auschwitz, one of many concentration camps run by the Third Reich to exterminate entire segments of humanity. The Story and stories are well known, remembered by some of us, recorded by victims, written about -- I have written here about that period in my life. There was no television, no internet, wifi: we got our news in the daily paper but most vividly in the newsreels at the local movie theater. For us here in Panama City in that time, the Ritz Theatre. Where the Martin is now, why in its recovery and renovation the Ritz was misnamed Martin IDK, but OK, it's done. The other movie theater was the Panama a couple blocks south down Harrison, maybe where the parking lot is now at Oak and Harrison. I’ve written before that I was never allowed in the Panama Theater, my mother forbade it, something about dirty old men. We only were allowed the Ritz. In my earliest memory, admission was eleven cents until you were twelve years old, then a quarter. 

A remembrance of horror that early part of 1945 as the war was coming to a victorious close was newsreels about what our allied forces found as they pushed through Germany and the lands of the Third Reich, including parts of Poland. The Holocaust is rubbished by moronic fools, bigoted imbeciles of racism and hatred, especially religious and cultural hatred; but it happened, happened in my time and memory, and we saw the pictures. As the war in Europe was ended by American and allied forces, newsreels showed emaciated creatures barely recognizable as human, prisoners holding on to concentration camp fences and gates as American, British and Russian soldiers set them free. Showed mounds of naked, rotting corpses twisted and grinning at Creator, their dying grimace at heaven and wondering "why?" and "where?" Showed huge metal ovens where human beings were cremated, some stuffed in alive, locked in, and cooked to horrible death. Film showed us as oven doors were opened, human bones spilling out, scorched skulls and bones, burnt skeletons. The memory is a horror that has never left me, pictures that never go away, laying in me, not coincidentally after the anti-German propaganda that blanketed us during the war years, a hatred of everything German, contempt that seventy years on I still fight to overcome, and that in the last several years brought me to recoil in appalled dismay and shame at finding out my primary heritage is German, not English as I had always been told. Not English, but one Andreas Wäller who in the 18th century emigrated to America from Hamm in Westphalia. Andreas, of course, had naught to do with the German Holocaust of the 20th century, but left relatives behind in Germany, which doubtless means that my own blood kin undeniably saluted the Nazi flag and would have been part of all that implies and entails. And I see no change; antisemitism in Germany seems as present as ever, lying hidden for two generations and three, as insidious and evil as our own racism. There was no innocence: pictures and videos from the Third Reich show frenzied Germans screaming “sieg heil” and hailing the times, saluting the Fuhrer: the nation was complicit to a man, to a woman, to a child. Andreas Wäller in the Hitlerjunge. Shame of my being, and guilt.

A hypocrite of lowest order, I love German cars and the German language, German music, German food and beer while despising all things human, the worst that we can be. Sensing my heritage and my kin, I rush to wash my hands, to bathe but what cannot be soaked away.

The Auschwitz seventieth anniversary observance is not celebratory but ugly, stirring stories, experiences, personal memories and visions of horror. As long as humans inhabit the planet, our era of evil and cruelty ought never be forgotten. This is what we can be, and are. Forgiveness, which is unthinkable, can only come from those who were murdered, and their loved ones who survived and remember -- -- and from their generations of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren unto the ages of ages who, like the descendants of the Ethiopian eunuch, will never be. Germany.

Germany. German. But then My Lai, and then Shock and Awe, and I cannot even refuge beneath Old Glory.

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