Monday, 24 April 2017

Nazi Scrapbooks from Hell


"Most people live lives of quiet desperation" -- Thoreau
A sad, sad thing has happened in this Foord household in recent weeks. We've purchased a TV license and adverts have become a thing in our lives. I detest their lies, but I'll admit that some adverts can be mildly entertaining.

For many years we subsisted on Netflix, Amazon video and a mountainous collection of DVDs that inexorably grows beyond any human capacity to ever watch them all but not beyond my unbounded desire to own all the things and know all the things. As with all areas of human endeavour, films (like books and music) present an to-all-intents-and-purposes infinite field of fun, informative and edidying, even seemingly essential, stuff that I could-and-possibly-even-should-but-never-actually-would watch.

Our lives are full enough. As I'm oh so fond of saying, the only thing worse than a busy life is all the alternatives. Years ago I decided that I had consumed enough of other people's creativity and I wanted to create myself. So we don't actually watch much television. Delia and I usually have one TV series that we watch together, on the rare evenings when we have dispatched the children to bed early enough that exhaustion has not fully overcome one or both of us. It took us a few *years* to watch enough of Gilmore Girls before it became clear they'd run out of actual things to say and we got bored enough to turn to something else, promising each other we'd come back and finish the final series soon whilst secretly acknowledging to ourselves that would never happen. 

Despite this Irina, our now six year old daughter, wanted to watch CBeebies and Delia wanted to be able to flick through channels idly relieved from the burden of choice. So I capitulated, and we now have broadcast television.

The world hasn't ended and I'll even begrudgingly admit to enjoying endless David Attenborough on Eden and discovering "Forged in Fire" on The History Channel - a gameshow type program pitting sword makers against one another and judging their work on strength, beauty and capacity to cut and maim.

Last night I even watched three TV programs in a row. I'd probably have to go back decades to the last time that happened Even counting nights of lonely horror in hotel rooms for programming conferences in far off lands I have rarely stooped to such an orgy of entertainment.

All three shows I would recommend, which I guess is the real reason for this post. "Genius" is a docu-drama (even using the word is nearly as much a horror as admitting to enjoying one) on the life of Albert Einstein. Fascinating, I just hope it's mostly true to life and they aren't lieing to me in the name of entertainment. The first episode was plausible and fits what little I already knew.

This was followed by "The Story of God", as told by Morgan Freeman. A man with gorgeously sonorous voice, but somewhat sullied reputation, now largely reinstated in my eyes by the sensitivity of his exploration and how genuine and human he comes across.

And finally "Nazi Scrapbooks from Hell", a look at the history of Auschwitz through two different scrapbooks of photos. The first a collection of photos from one of the commanders, which commits the almost unforgivable sin of humanizing the Nazis. Realising the horrors of that place, the pit of the worst of human capacity, was a merely human creation is such a hard thing to face. The second scrapbook catalogued the arrival and fate of the Jews, accompanied and explained by the narration of a survivor.

When the show came on I nearly switched it off. I know enough of the holocaust, and it has touched and shaped my own family. (See "A Jewish Love Story".)

But, perhaps mostly out of stubbornness, I won't turn away from the horror. I won't pretend it doesn't exist, or claim that it's dealt with and I have no part in it. So I watched.

Hannah Arendt, in her examination of the rise of totalitarianism, said that the way the Nazis could commit such horrors whilst still holding on (at least outwardly) to the appearance of their own humanity (as evidenced in the laughing photos) was the dehumanization of their victims. If the Jews and homosexuals and gypsies weren't really people then they could switch off empathy and laugh and smile and kill.

The very worst thing, personally, is that I can understand.  If you can totally switch off your view of "the other" as a real person, then how fascinating to see how the human body responds to pain and other horrors. How useful. And how then possible to let out, and enjoy, all your darkest, deepest desires - entirely contained and walled off on subjects who matter not in the slightest because they aren't real. And then you can pet your dog and enjoy blueberries with the pretty, laughing Nazi girls, a mere ten miles from the death camp.

So something of that horror is in me, because it is in all humanity. We did it. And I won't run from it, shut it out, stay blind and mute to the worst of what I am. I repudiate it utterly, I want nothing of it. But I will face it, I will find it in myself, not push it away and wall it off. I will touch the darkness in me, and cry over it. God help me.


"My driving desire is the powerful psychological release I find in the active adoration of love. I long to worship, I love to worship."

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