Friday, 24 April 2009

Holocaust quotes

I'm coming at this a bit late, as Holocaust Day was a few days ago (April 21, 2009; Nissan 5769). John Anderson of Hesed we'emet has posted some powerful quotes from holocaust survivors. Here they are:

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."
---Elie Wiesel, Night, 32

"I witnessed other hangings. I never saw a single one of the victims weep. For a long time those dried-up bodies had forgotten the bitter taste of tears. Except once [ . . . ] One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all round us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains--and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel. The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him. [ . . . ] The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. 'Long live liberty!' cried the two adults. But the child was silent. 'Where is God? Where is He?' someone behind me asked. At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over. Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. 'Bare your heads!' yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping. 'Cover your heads!' Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving, being so light, the child was still alive. . . . For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still read, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: 'Where is God now?' and I heard a voice within me answer him: 'Where is He? Here He is--He is hanging here on this gallows . . . ' That night the soup tasted of corpses."
---Elie Wiesel, Night, 60-62

"Their life is short, but their number is endless; they, the muselmanner, the drowned, form the backbone of the camp, an anonymous mass, continually renewed and always identical, of non-men who march and labour in silence, the divine spark dead within them, already too empty to really suffer. One hesitates to call them living: one hesitates to call their death death, in the face of which they have no fear, as they are too tired to understand. They crowd my memory with their faceless presences, and if I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would choose this image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man, with head dropped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen. If the drowned have no story, and single and broad is the path to perdition, the paths to salvation are many, difficult and improbable."
---Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, 90

"I'm not alive. People believe memories grow vague, are erased by time, since nothing endures against the passage of time. That's the difference; time does not pass over me, over us. It doesn't erase anything, doesn't undo it. I'm not a live. I died in Auschwitz but no one knows it."
---Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After, 267

And while he was never a prisoner in the camps, the words of Rabbi Irving Greenberg are as true today as when he first uttered them. It is an important caution of which we must all be aware:

"No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children."

In my opinion (Phil, not John), the best documentary on the Holocaust is the nine hour masterpiece by Claude Lanzmann Shoah.


John Anderson said...

Hey Phil . . . thanks for the mention, as always. It was hard to pick just a few.

Regarding documentaries, I have always found Steven Spielberg's The Last Days to be incredibly powerful. There is a story on it of a man who recounts how an SS officer demanded he play the violin for him; the man admits he had never played a violin in his life. He then says, however, "and I played, and this is what came out of the instrument." And he plays a beautiful, beautiful piece. It was powerful. I especially find his comment that the music came "out of" the instrument interesting.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi John,

I'd never heard of the video by Spielberg. I searched for it on the Internet as I would have bought it immediately but have not been able to find the DVD. Amazon only has the book. Doof, as the Germans say.

The scene you describe reminds of the end of The Pianist. That scene is one of my favourites, not least because Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is my favourite piano piece (not that I'm an expert on such matters).

John Anderson said...

The Pianist was indeed a fine movie. The difference, for me, though, is that Spielberg's documentary is real.

BTW, I bought mine at best buy years ago. Maybe check there (if such a thing exists in Germany? Maybe you can get one from Best Buy online?).

You probably know also that Spielberg took the money from the Schindler's list film and started an organization (the name of which escapes me at present), but it has sought to interview, record, and preserve every single Holocaust survivor that is still alive. Truly a remarkable project.

I still recall the first time I ever met a survivor. He had been in Auschwitz. The moment when he pulled his sleeve up to reveal his 'identification number' has never left me.

Phil Sumpter said...

I'll try and get hold of it. Thanks again for the tip.

I was unaware that Spielberg was doing such a project. That really does sound interesting. I'll keep an eye out for that too.

Unknown said...

there are some great Holocaust quotes that really make you think in that movie. Hard to believe that people deny what happened..:(