Monday, June 25, 2007

A Holocaust Weekend

Three searing reminders of the Nazi holocaust this weekend. First, Friday night, we watched the movie "Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary" (take a look at the "preview") which had arrived in our mailbox from Neflix. I can't remember how we were alerted to it, but it must have been on our list because someone had recommended it.. So, thanks to whoever did, because it's an amazing documentary. The camera dwells exclusively on the one person, Traudi Junge, who sits in the same position throughout a series of interviews, recalling her days as secretary to one of the great monsters of history.

Frau Junge's is an absolutely compelling story, from the time she had barely heard of Hitler as a young girl to her move to Berlin with the hope of becoming a dancer; to the secretarial skills tests she was urged to take and her first interview with the man she described as as a kindly older gentleman, and particularly as "fatherly"--she herself had grown up without one; to her recollections of typing to his dictation, mostly personal things, she said, and speeches, never anything that carried a remote suggestion of the evil that she later came to understand he represented... She recalled only one instance of his hatred of the Jews, expressed by no more than a curt response to a woman visitor who dared to mention hearing of the poor treatment of Dutch Jews being herded onto trains: the great dictator told her not to speak of things she did not understand and stalked out of the room. Frau Junge could remember nothing more.

Most compelling were her memories of the Stauffenberg attempt on Hitler's life and the last days in that bunker in Berlin, with Hitler's increasing alienation from reality, his marriage to Eva Braun, the six Goebbels children and their distraught mother, the constant din of bombing and artillery, the suicides... And the feelings of guilt she had lived with for the rest of her life--she was 91 at the time of the interviews, and remarkably robust and clear of memory, and died at the time of the film's release--for not having been aware, for having allowed herself to sleepwalk through the horror of the war and the holocaust, for having been an enabling cog in the machinery. Only at the very end, shortly before her death, could she tell her interviewer that she had begun to forgive herself. These days, we tend to scoff at those who claimed not to know what was happening in Nazi Germany: Traudi Junge's story, from the very center of it all, is a tragic example of the "blind spot"--or, more literally translated from the German title, the "dead corner"--that succeeded in numbing the consciousness of the great majority of her countrymen at the time.

We are, as members of the human species, responsible for our own consciousness. We need to remind ourselves to stay awake, because it is all too easy to close our minds to that which we choose not to see. It's a lack of consciousness, as I see it, that has led us to the current woeful predicament of our own country and its reputation in the world.

The two other Holocaust reminders of the three I mentioned were the review, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review section of The Years of Extermination, a new historical study of the holocaust by Saul Friedlaender, described by the reviewer as a "masterpiece"; and the repeat of a CBS "60 Minutes" report on the release of a vast archive of documentation: three survivors were invited to review the paperwork relevant to their capture, transportation and confinement in KZs (Konzentrationslager, or concentration camps.) Now old men, their recollections were almost too painful to bear.

I hate to bring this to you on a Monday morning, but there you go. It's absolutely vital that we not pass up a single chance to maintain this inhumanity in our consciousness. We must, as they say, "never forget." And yet, to our shame, we do. We keep forgetting. And forgetting, are condemned to keep repeating the past...


Cardozo said...

Great movie reviews, as always, P.

I'm sure Carly will scoff, but I say we've never really forgotten the holocaust, and yet they do in fact keep recurring.

Are we willing to FIGHT (throw ourselves into the gears, as Mario Savio would have it)to force our government to use the leverage we have? If not, why spend precious emotional energy on it? Better to do as Morgan Freeman in Evan Almight suggests: change the world, one random act of kindness at a time.

Carly said...

C: The only thing I'd scoff at is you saying you're sure I'll scoff.