Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Within Reason

26 Ramadhan, 1438

Continuing to make headway in Nikolaus Wachsmann's devastating history of the Third Reich's Konzentrationslager. In some ways it's an easy read, being written with great clarity and never losing sight of the human stories amidst the formidable analysis of the development of the camps. But it's so overwhelming in its evocation of the unbearable suffering endured by so many that I can only manage a few pages at one time before feeling a deep need to get away from the twisted world within its pages. The problem is, though, that this is very much our world and there's so much that's easy to recognise despite the historical distance involved: the ease with which a culture can surrender to the irrational for one.

The sick twisted logic of the camps is simultaneously enraging and frightening. The guards find confirmation that the prisoners are less than human in the physical degradation they suffer as a result of life in the appalling environment of the typical camp created by the guards. There seems no way out of the madness, and, of course, for the majority of the victims that was tragically the case.

But I suppose a way forward can be seen in the very publication of a book like this, in which reason and humanity shed some light, dark as it is, on what took place. Wachsmann's work, and the painstaking research on which it draws, does some honour to the despairing epigraph of the book, drawn from a letter written by one of the victims found buried in the Auschwitz crematorium: may the world at least behold a drop, a fraction of this tragic world in which we lived. We're frequently reminded in these pages of the choices which were never real choices given to the victims of the camps. Fortunately we have real choices and can pursue truth, can choose to reason in an honest fashion, can follow the light insofar as our limitations allow.

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