January 30, 2012
‘To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice’, uttered by Elie Wiesel. This phrase haunts the legacy of the Holocaust, it leaks into every remembered tale, every history book, every elderly relative drawing at the twines of their memories, every town square and every memorial. To kill twice, to condemn not the already condemned body nor the mind, but the memory is a crime we can all become culpable in, as we let the shape of the Holocaust and its horrors dissolve into nothingness. When something is hidden from view, withdrawn from circulation, its outline becomes hazy and indefinite. Soon you redraw the image in your mind, but it is never the same. Lengths have shortened, curves emerged and proportions are tinkered with and soon you have in your mind, the last navigatory tool, a caricature of what was. But is the Holocaust trapped under the weight of our collective history, bound up in twine shunted against the wall in the room coddled with cobwebs, to be missed, to be obstructed from view by the miscellany and knickknacks of modern life?
You think history is the history of loving hearts? You fool! Look at these millions of dead. Can you pity them, feel for them? You can nothing! There were too many. We burned them to ashes, we buried them with bulldozers. History is the history of cruelty, not love as soft men think.
Saul Bellow wrote this in Herzog and when thinking about the Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity, how can history be anything but cruel? To think of Bellow’s cruel history is to think of a long and continuous thread tying us to the camps at Dachau, Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, Belzec, Stutthof; the brutal war of independence in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan); Khmer Rouge’s utopic view of a ‘purer’ sense of communism that saw around 2 million people killed; the widespread murder and cannibalism of pygmy tribes in the DRC; inter-tribal violence in Rwanda that pitted Hutu and Tutsi against each other, severing villages and families; the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia and the list goes on. Reciting the list, part of me wants to call out to Wiesel: ‘how can we forget, it still happens, it is occurring around the world to remind us!’ But to remember a face, an individual instance, in such a sizable crowd, a mass of people where the edges of the crowd cannot be seen, is impossible. But how have we let such a crowd of the dead amass threatening to make the voices of each case inaudible above the din of the screams, yelps and sobs? Read more of this post