I had spelled his name wrong when I originally posted this. Sorry. Besides corrected spelling, you get a brief biography that I hadn't found before. It's at the end, thanks to The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Here we go.
I had just posted about Bruce Ivins, the anthrax murder suspect, and his split personality when the opportunity to watch a documentary about famous Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, came my way. If you can find it, I'd recommend it over say, Wall-E, or anything else I've seen recently. I Have Never Forgotten You, the Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal.
What's interesting to me about this is the 68 year old question,
How could SS officers, obviously men who had lives, who had children and wives, who laughed and sang, who cared about others, DO WHAT THEY DID?In case you're thinking that the Holocaust never happened, read CNN's piece on James Hoyt, a camp liberator who passed away Monday. Mr. Hoyt told everyone what he saw at the camps.
Richard Trank and Marvin Hier wrote the documentary about the Austrian-Jewish architect and engineer who turned to Nazi hunting after surviving the Holocaust. For a full synopsis of the film, click here.
Nicole Kidman narrates, if you need star power, and Ben Kingsley has one of his most powerful performances, just being himself, talking about what it was like working with Mr. Wiesenthal, being Mr. Wiesenthal in Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story (1989) (TV). Mr. Kingsley's awe and respect for his hero are worth the watch alone.
But it will make you feel like you're not doing a heck of a lot with your life. I like that kind of motivation, personally.
It doesn't make any sense, the Holocaust. How did the SS officers don two caps? Murderers by day. Husbands and fathers by night. They weren't mentally ill like Bruce Ivins. Mr. Ivins could be a regular guy, too, a good man, a charitable, laughing individual, who wore other hats. But he was sick, we know that from his history. The Nazis, for the most part (there's always a bell curve, a normal distribution when it comes to populations) were not.
All this knowledge, and here I am, totally unable to grasp this. Someone help me. I really don't get it.
I watched two documentaries on Sunday, both totally recommended if you need a good cry and a reality check (that relativistic thing). Besides the Wiesenthal documentary, Scrapbooks from Hell, portraits of an SS officer, will give you pause. Carl Hoeker, a good-looking family man by night, chose which Jews would go to the gas-chambers and which would go to work, starvation, and a slower death, by day.
“It shows the killers as humans…this scrapbook forces us to look at the killers in a way that I think pushes our comfort level where we don’t want it to go.” says Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on camera. National Geographic aired the documentary on April 27, 2008. They should run it again.
How about a little history?
The death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and especially the year of 1944 is considered the epicenter for the mass killings during the Holocaust, a single camp of several where the Nazis and their collaborators murdered more than one million people.Thanks for that, Monsters and Critics . (The sanitized version, especially when it comes to Mengele's dastardly deeds. You can see the actual scrapbook, too.
Six such death camps existed: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Large-scale murder was conducted by poisonous gas and then body disposal through cremation was conducted systematically by the Nazis and Adolf Hitler's SS men.
Victims were deported to these centers from Western Europe and from the ghettos in Eastern Europe which the Nazis had established.
Millions died in the ghettos and concentration camps as a result of forced labor, starvation, exposure, brutality, disease, and execution.
This documentary reveals authenticated rare photos of Dr. Josef Mengele, The Angel Of Death, who possessed both a PhD and an MD. Mengele is photographed smiling at Auschwitz where he put his education to use by torturing men, women and children in medical experiments of unspeakable horror during the Holocaust.
It is historical fact that Mengele had put his victims into pressure chambers, administered various drugs, castrated them or froze his test subjects to death. Children were exposed to experimental surgeries performed without anesthesia
It's distressing and none of it should be lost, which is why the Wiesenthal documentary, I Have Never Forgotten You is titled exactly that. Wiesenthal lost his entire family, with the exception of a few distant cousins, in the Holocaust. He was a survivor.*
Someone told him, at liberation, that now he could go back to creating buildings. He said,
How can you presume that anyone, after what he or she has just seen and experienced, can return to anything?At liberation, he asked if he could help, probably weighing in at 75 pounds. The Americans wanted to laugh, but they didn't. They said, "Write it all down. You've seen so much."
He proceeded with an extensive list of Nazi perpetrators, their names and the dates that they perpetrated their heartless mayhem, the names of the Nazis and their exact crimes, and presented this to the liberators of the camps. This, the beginning of the career of the greatest, perhaps only, true Nazi hunter.
It is a mesmerizing story. And we still ask ourselves, Why did they do it?
Following orders, they said.
As I kvetched about this the other day, someone glibly remarked, "Why is this so hard to understand? The Nazis saw their jobs as we see our jobs. They thought they were only doing their jobs. More importantly, the job would only take a couple of years, and then they would move on, move up. Just like us."
My son says that at the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial in Israel he saw a poster that quoted an SS officer as saying, "It's hard at first (killing), but it gets easier, you know, once you get the hang of it."
I'm thinking I'd rather die. I'd rather die than take on any task that is egregious, unconscionable. How could they do it for a living?
Or is it group think? The same dynamic that characterizes gang rapes?
Someone tell me.
*The Columbia Encyclopedia also tells us the following
Simon Wiesenthal lived from 1908-2005. He was born in Butschatsch, Austria-Hungary (now Buchach, Ukraine), received (1932) an architectural engineering degree in Prague, practiced in Lvov, Poland/Ukraine.
Sent to a forced labor camp upon Nazi invasion, recaptured after an escape, Mr. Wiesenthal had been to several concentration camps by the end of the war, at which time 89 of his relatives had been slaughtered.
He devoting his life to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, and established a center for this purpose in Linz, Austria. In 1961 he established the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna. Mr. Wiesenthal located approximately 1,100 war criminals, many of whom were tried and convicted, and authored KZ Mathausen (1947), The Murderers among Us (1967), and Max and Helen (1982).
For more, see The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2008