Yom HaShoah: Three Readings

On Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, three readings.

Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz:

And night came, and it was such a night that one knew that human eyes would not witness it and survive. Everyone felt this: not one of the guards, neither Italian nor German, had the courage to come and see what men do when they know they have to die.

All took leave from life in the manner which most suited them. Some praying, some deliberately drunk, others lustfully intoxicated for the last time. But the mothers stayed up to prepare the food for the journey with tender care, and washed their children and packed the luggage; and at dawn the barbed wire was full of children’s washing hung out in the wind to dry. Nor did they forget the diapers, the toys, the cushions and the hundred other small things which mothers remember and which children always need. Would you not do the same? If you and your child were going to be killed tomorrow, would you not give him to eat today?

Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness:

At [Franz] Stangl’s trial, his activities at Sobibor were, for administrative reasons, not included in the prosecution’s case. But even so, his behaviour and attitude while there became part of the trial record and one of the matters brought up by each of the few Sobibor survivors who came to Düsseldorf as witnesses, was the fact that he often attended the unloading of transports “dressed in white riding clothes.” It was when he tried to explain this to me that I became aware for the first time of how he had lived—and was still living when we spoke—on two levels of consciousness, and conscience.

“When I came to Poland,” he said, “I had very few clothes: one complete uniform, a coat, an extra pair of trousers and shoes, and an indoor jacket—that’s all. I remember, during the very first week I was there, I was walking from the forester’s hut—my quarters—to one of the construction sites and suddenly I began to itch all over. I thought I was going crazy—it was awful; I couldn’t even reach everywhere at once to scratch. Michel said, ‘Didn’t anybody warn you? It’s sandflies, they are all over the place. You shouldn’t have come without boots.’…I rushed back to my room and took everything off—I remember just handing all the stuff to somebody out of the door, and they boiled and disinfected everything. My clothes and almost every inch of me was covered with the things; they attach themselves to all the hair on your body. I had water brought in and bathed and bathed.”

It was difficult at that point not to recall that in these camps the prisoners retained as “work-Jews” had to stand at rigid attention, caps off, whenever a German passed. Anyone who moved, for any reason whatever—cramps, itches or anything else—was more likely than not to be hit or beaten with a whip, and the consequences of being struck could go far beyond momentary pain: any prison who, at the daily roll-call, was found to be—as they called it—”marked” or “stamped”, was a candidate for immediate gassing.

These sandflies must have been an awful problem for the prisoners, weren’t they?” I asked.

“Not everyone was as sensitive to them as I. They just liked me,” he said, and smiled. “Anyway, what I wanted to tell you, with all this wear and tear, and the heat—it was very hot you know—my clothes fell apart. Well, one day, in a small town not far away, I found a weaving mill; I was interested in it because, you remember, that had been my profession once. So I went in. they were making very nice linen—off-white. I asked whether they’d sell me some. And that’s how I got the white material; I had a jacket made right away and a little later jodhpurs and a coat.”

But even so, how could go into the camp in this get-up?

“The roads were very bad,” he explained blankly. “Riding was the best mode of transport.”

I tried once more:”Yes, but to attend the unloading of these people who were about to die, in white riding clothes….?”

“I was hot,” he said.

Arno Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?:

…at bottom the Judeocide remains as incomprehensible to me today as five years ago, when I set out to study and rethink it.


  1. Rosalind Petchesky April 17, 2015 at 10:48 am | #

    On Holocaust Remembrance Day, a prescient quote from Marc Ellis on Mondoweiss: “Most of this Holocaust grief has become rote, a credential played so that support for Palestinians can’t be seen as a form of anti-Semitism. . . . What Jews – and Christians – would do without the Holocaust as a signifier of absolute grief is difficult to know. Yet, since absolute grief has other destinations, including Gaza, it is time to turn our attention elsewhere.”

    See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/04/second-coming-holocaust?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List&utm_campaign=9bed9b816d-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b86bace129-9bed9b816d-398526865#sthash.43ZAw9xj.dpuf

  2. xenon2 April 17, 2015 at 10:28 pm | #

    I love Survival in Auschwitz.
    The best digital audio is by Jewish Braille Institute http://www.jbilibrary.org/
    It’s read by a women, with a decidedly New York accent.
    She pours her heart and soul into that book.

    About 2 years ago, the Library of Congress also made a digital audio recording.
    The recording is by one of favorite narrators, but I like the woman’s voice better.
    It was ‘warmer’.

    Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness, I haven’t read, but certainly will.

    thank you!

  3. Rob April 18, 2015 at 1:37 pm | #

    George Mosse, who escaped Berlin when the Nazis came to power, wrote a marvelous book entitled ‘Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars’ on the sacralization and instrumentalization of memory of the WWI dead during the Interwar years. This cult, which was already going strong long before the Nazis turned it into an art form, led directly to the even greater cataclysm of WWII.

    Max Blumenthal also has a fascinating take in ‘Goliath’ (p. 281) on how anyone who passes through the Israeli education system is intensely indoctrinated into the ways of victimhood and paranoia.

    “At five years old the teachers start to say that Independence Day commemorates a military victory over the Arabs”, said Gor-Ziv. “They decorate the kindergartens with symbols of the military units. It’s not just a celebration of the birthday of the state, it’s the story of the how the state was established. Then the Jewish holidays here become holidays of war: Purim is against the Persians, Passover is against the Egyptians. Then we have the Nazis and the Arabs. So as kids, they get all the enemies mixed up but the message is the same.

    Carrying out a pogrom against a Palestinian village becomes a whole lot easier when you have inculcated into you the common Israeli saying “Everyone hates us”:

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