In watching “Night Will Fall,” the documentary made frm the British and American footage of the liberation of the concentration camps at the close of WWII, what struck me first was the irrationality of Nazis starving a slave population that was intended to work. How inefficient that was as people diminished to skeletal weight and racked by dysentery and typhus could not have performed tasks with even the semblance of purposeful activity. This only adds to the mystery of why the Germans went to the expense and bother of constructing and staffing camps and transporting victims to them, often from great distances, instead of killing people in situ as they frequently did in mass ditches dug by the victims at the outskirts of towns and villages. According to Daniel Goldhagen (How Auschwitz is Misunderstood NYT 1/25), it was to distance the killers from their victims. Though this was true for prisoners brought from all over Europe, it certainly wasn’t true for German Jews who were brought to camps in Germany which were in close proximity to their former neighbors. A look at the map that Alfred Hitchcock created for the original documentary shows camps dotting Germany, often within a mile of cities and villages.
More likely, it was to distance killers from themselves, allowing them a mechanized “workplace” in which to behave as torturers, employing tactics as sadistic as their ingenuity allowed, while still going home at night and behaving normally with one’s family. Shocking to see in the film were the numbers of German women who worked at the camps - somehow women don’t spring to mind as ideal torturers because we assume that maternal instincts conflict with brutal aggression. Judging from the sturdy walks, esprit de corps and smiling faces of the “Amazons” of the camp forces, cultural indoctrination can trump natural instincts quite successfully. It’s hard for those of us who have never lived in these most debased of all prisons to imagine how the concept of time was altered but there were people who survived years of living in proximity with death, disease, mutilation and despair. Somehow, they had the resilience not only to survive but to create new lives, families and professions after the war. Americans assume that one experience of sexual harassment (not necessarily rape) is sufficient to mar an individual’s life; elite law schools recently allowed students to postpone taking tests after the “trauma” over the deaths of two black men in confrontations with police. How can this same generation possibly understand the physical and psychological ordeal of living through the nightmare of a concentration camp for several years? Of seeing entire families killed - if not by gas, then by gunshot, hanging, beating, freezing, “medical experiments,” starvation, dysentery and ultimately hopelessness.
For those heroic souls who managed to not only survive but to relocate to another country, learn another language and/or trade, create another family, produce something of value to those around them and/or the world at large, the final indignity has been the casual comparison of Israelis to Nazis and the obscene enterprise of holocaust denial, a cottage industry for those determined to finish the job that Hitler proudly began with the support of too much of the civilized world. Seeing the reprise of Jews being killed in Europe, in Argentina, in India and in Israel is a horrifying reminder that this oldest of hatreds has simply changed hands from Nazis to Islamists who were their early collaborators in the quest for genocide. According to the creators of the original documentary, the rationale for photographing the history of what happened in the Nazi concentration camps was that “unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall.” We had better admit that darkness is rapidly descending.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here