Friday, November 11, 2005


Today is rememberance day. I dare say that this day is in a modern day crisis.

This week I began a new ritual that, God willing, will continue in my life. I read Eichmann and the Holocaust by Hannah Arendt and The Good Old Days: the Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders edited by various people.

The crisis, as I see it, is a lack of a communal ritual that routinizes the event that rememberance day symbolizes. When Catholics remember Jesus they literally eat his blood and body in communion with each other and God. Taking communion, one is confronted with the mystique and awe that is the Son of Man. When Canadians remember today for the freedom that has been won, there are some scattered ceremonies and parades. Oh and a day off. I don't care what anyone says; a parade isn't enough. If today truly is a day to "remember", perhaps we could find out the object of what is being remembered.

Some say we remember the soldiers who fought and the war that was won. However, without anything really concrete in mind, the process of "remembering" something not personally experienced is not really remembering at all. It is more like recognition. Recognition day? Perhaps it is accurate.

To have a rememberance day that is actually a day of remembering, I suggest to bring the history into the present. Into the now. If you want to remember what happened, I suggest reading a book or a diary; talk to a vet. One particularily chilling story will be retold here. It is something I have not forgotten since I read it earlier this week.

In Eastern Europe during World War II, the Nazi's had established (at least) one massive grave for Jews. Jews came to these graves because their Council's pretty much lied to them and told them they had to be resettled. The Council's, in turn, were spared. In return, thousands of Jews at this particular site were mass murdered. About 33 thousand to be approximate.

Jews first dropped all of their belongings in an open field. A kilometre away, they were led to another site in a valley. They were forced to take off all their clothes and give their money to the Germans. At that point they were asked to turn around. They then received a bullet in the back of the neck. But at certain points there were just too many Jews and not an efficient enough system to kill Jews. So they asked certain groups to lay face down on top of other dead bodies that were previously killed. Germans on top of the valley essentially would mow down the Jews with machine guns. Terrible, yes. Very.

In the diary of one particular German, he records that these bodies, after they had been shot, had been covered with sand, presumably to begin to burry them. Then, moments after the sand had covered them and the machine guns had been dispersed into the valley, it was recorded that one particular hand came up from under the sand to the surface. It did not grasp to escape. The hand, "presumably, pointed toward his heart" for another bullet.

It is a gruesome image. One we must never forget. But lest I think the Germans were psycho-maniacs, my reading has unveiled a very shocking conclusion.

Both books on Eichmann and the Jews pound home one common point not to be missed. It was caught and summed up very nicely by one reviewer:

"The people doing this killing were just normal guys, not unlike friends, family or myself. Wow, it is just amazing to me the way they try to justify what they were in charge of, the crimes against humanity that they committed. That is what was so disturbing to me. It is much easier to think that the mass killing was done by some group of homicidal maniacs let out of the asylum and given guns."

Like Eichmann, the Germans who carried out the final solution were not psychopaths. Many of the people who actually took part in the killings developed major psychological trauma. Many bawled, many were transferred, many committed suicide. They were human, which is counter to some of our attempts which seek to demonize the Nazis as the epitome of evil.

Today I remember that we are all capable of evil. And perhaps that can bring us closer together as humans - in rejecting the call to dismiss 'the other' as evil, is it possible that we could even better understand the failings of 'the other' in terms of our own?


Lydia said...

Interesting post. Especially from this side of the world, where there was no day off, Nov. 11 is actually a day similar to Valentine's Day (except these weird chocolate bread sticks are exchanged), and the tension between the North and South sometimes lingers in the back of my mind.

Well, first off, not sure if your aware of this, but Nov. 11 is not a holiday for all Canadians - aleast not for the Quebecois or Ontarians.

I agree with your comment on the need for bringing "the history into the present." Most Westerners in our generation can't remember something they weren't a part of. In fact, the same thing has been discussed here in Korea, as the new generations do not remember the war with Japan, which is so defining to Korean culture.

Unfortunately, I don't think people always choose to remember in the best of ways - a few weeks ago we visited a war museum, which was a prison for Korean militants. There are dummies who are re-living the torture experienced by the Korean prisoners - rape, hanging, whipping, driving knives into people's finger nails....all in front of your eyes with voices. You can even pretend to hang yourself. The walls of the prison are covered in graffiti (not something you see very much of in Korea). Most of it is in Korean, but the English that was there read: "Fuck Japan" or "Murder the Japs." I'm guessing the Korean said something of the sort. Obvisouly the sentiments being evoked as you walk through this museum and 'remember' the atrocities of war, do not help reconciliation between these countries, but rather pass on the hate to the next generation.
I think it's important for us to find ways to remember, but I really think they need to be constructive.

As for remembering the Holocaust, have you seen the movie 'The Pianist'? Amazing. I remember discussing it with Nathan, Blair, Jason, and Mirjam, until the early hours of the morning last year.

Jonathan said...

Good thoughts. That is interesting about the Japanese war, yet there seems to still be some animosity there.

Hang yourself? Wierd and wrong.

I haven't seen the pianist. Did it touch you?