Words of warning and welcome:

This is very much my blog, so don't be surprised if this doesn't follow accepted patterns and norms. Obviously it started out as a blog about my cross-dressing but it has developed a great deal since then. It is a place where I can be anonymous and honest, and I appreciate that.

It will deal with many things and new readers would do well to check out the New Readers' Page above this and the tag down there on the right. Although there's nothing too bad in here there will be adult language, so be careful. If you think this needs a greater control, please let me know. Thank you!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Day-Trip To Auschwitz Part 2

Apparently one long rambling post on the experience wasn't enough. So, I'm going to pick up where I left off (on the way to Birkenau/Auschwitz II) and see where it takes me. I wouldn't blame you if you don't read past this introduction.

In other news, I am avoiding marking and may or may not manage to get round to writing this evening, because I know you care. Oh, have you checked out the 1066 Game? You ought to.

Would you like to know more?

The first view, rising from the flat marsh.
The first thing that strikes you on the way to Birkenau is the size, the sheer scale, of the place. It appears from the flat marsh land surprisingly, as though you didn't notice it despite there being no place to hide. And it stretches from the near horizon to the hazy distance in width and then back easily as far. Then there is the desolation of it and the land around - skeletons of huts reaching eerily into the sky like accusing fingers at God from the depths. Finally, there is the modern town of Oświęcim - the new abutting the inhuman and the beyond comprehension. The students strand behind their teachers, attempting to hide from that which is so stark that one cannot hide from it, and they say nothing. We share responsibility for what went on here and no one wants to voice this for fear of what it means. None of us wants to admit that we are the bystanders in our own age. None of us wishes to confront that part of ourselves that does let enormities like that which we are faced with here continue in the world we now take responsibility for. No one wants the buck to stop here.

The view toward the new town, the normalcy against
the unknowable.
What is the 'wrong answer'? What are we so scared of, exactly, and is it a legitimate or a created fear? Conversation is lively but the words and topics are stunted. A desperation of normalcy, an assertion of the mundane with no depth. When one looks into the deep the deep can suck you in; the shallow, the vapid, the safe. We are tamers and we are tamed and, in being tamed, we have become unable to grapple with the enormity of who and what we are. The darkness of these things hints at the darkness in our own depth and we afraid. In the light the shadows can stalk us more effectively because we do not wish to acknowledge the black within and without. We are full of fear. So we look away. We turn deliberately and look away. Look at the view, the scale, the buildings that remain and the maps. They ought to serve as a mirror, a means by which to inspect who we are but they are simultaneously a distraction. We dehumanise ourselves.

The second hut. A field stables.
First hut in Auschwitz II. New wood and new varnish, we rebuild the scenes of our own horror and maintain the instruments of torture applied safely to other people by other people. No plumbing or running water for a camp that held 90,000, Oświęcim had just 40,000. Latrines open once in the morning and once in the evening. 200 latrines crammed together in uneven holes in concrete slabs above a pit at one end. No privacy. No space. A chance to talk and to trade and to communicate, to exchange what it is to be human. SchiessKommando: passive resistance, Resistenz, was possible here in the slowness of the work and the taking of toilet breaks. Reduction to beasts, a stripping away of civilisation or something else? Not victims but humans. Here they could have some freedom due to the fear of disease. The world turned upside down and no sign of Cromwell. "Shifting shit was one of the happiest jobs in my life" as it gave free access to the toilets to discuss, converse and organise. Voices from the past.

After one week a survivor tells of losing the urge to clean himself, better to spend ten minutes idle. But one must want to survive, one must save a skeleton of civilisation, "the power to refuse our consent". To wash to save dignity rather than because of the rules and regulations. But this is not the survivor, he did not wash and spent ten minutes idle. What then the lesson? Separation from the beasts? Not victims but human. Most of the wooden barracks were dismantled after "the liberation" by the Soviets - how to keep such a place in existence when one has seen what was done here, when one has seen and understood what was carried out.

Heating systems in the huts but without fuel. Little time in the field stable barracks, mainly outside in back-breaking slave labour and so inside only during night-time. Records speak mainly of thirst rather than cold and heat - due to diarrhoea or typhus or cholera. Herbal tea was served in the morning and soup in the evening but there was no other water or liquid served. Most of the time at work. Inversion rather than introversion. Not victims but humans.

From the Dutch/Belgian border. Used in the Hungarian
transportation. Scratched message: "If you see my children,
tell them their mother tell them I".

Hungary was the last and largest area from which people, Jews, were deported using the railway spur specially built for the purpose joining the camp to the outside world completed in Spring 1944; four days travelling from Hungary, no food or air or light so arrival was always greeted with relief. Sonambulant into the fast and brutal selection where separation took place and goodbyes were never said because there was no time. No realisation. Families were separated. Night, 1981, cherished objects were left behind and, with them, any remaining illusions. "Men to the left, women to the right" almost bored - eight words - saw sister and mother disappear into the distance, mother stroking the sister's hair, and did not know that this parting was for the last time. Went on walking holding onto his father's hand in silence.

Roma and Sinti were kept in the camps but were not fully literate and a smaller group, so little was left and little is known either about their lives or their culture or their fate. Prisoners forced to paint them to record the colour and the ethnicity of the melanin content of their character but these were forced and themselves subject to the passive resistance - what then the views that we have remaining? A culture removed, pruned, destroyed and laid waste, an absence after the the physical presence in Auschwitz I. From things to a lack of things. Who were these people? Should one raise the dead? Can one raise the dead even if one accepts it as a valid thing? What do we remember? Not the purpose, not the events or the content of remembrance, rather the substance for I know not what that is.

To the ruins of Crematorium II from Crematorium III.

Crematorium IV was removed, scene of the revolt.
The revolt of the SonderKommando, the strange Command, was a choice about how to die rather than an attempt to survive or even put the crematoria out of use, it was too late, the work was already winding down. The Nazis tried to hide what they did from the world, they tried to destroy it all - a black page in history written without memory in the dark - so the prisoners buried notes and diaries written under intense scrutiny and pressure. Those who worked in the crematorium buried tins and boxes to record what they saw going on around them. A record to pass on to the future. "A request: that my doomed life have a meaning". It is this inch, the last part of us, that can never be claimed from any of us. They buried teeth and other clues to try and record what happened. Hope for the future as a free world. Responsibility to bear witness to what went on. Ashes to ashes.

The corridors of needless cruelty.

The registration building past the ad hoc methods of sanitation efforts. None of this was planned like that. It was always on the backs of expediency, there was never a master plan or a single driving thought or idea. The enormity was too large. No one sat down and took responsibility, taking refuge in the concept that things were done as and when required rather than created and mapped out to some grand vision. Anyone seeing the vision would have recoiled in horror and would have scarce believed what was taking place. The ersatz and almost temporary measures taken stand as silent records of the nature of what took place, something that no one could ever hold in their head. And so to the brick built building that looks like a school from the 1930s. Single storey, non-descript.

One of the rooms.
A glass case of objects found in the warehouses but taken from people in this building, after they had been told to leave everything by the trains. The normalcy of these objects matches the normalcy of those who now observe, the expectation is that life will continue. This is the Zwischen, this is the Between. Registration was done naked so as better to see pregnancy or illness and thus exterminate and then hair was shaved quickly and roughly with blunt or old tools. To render inhuman, to allow us to forget our common humanity and connection. Driven with needless cruelty through the showers and then into a room to stand, dripping, waiting for camp clothes being disinfected in the next room, sometimes for hours at a time. Bare walls and silence and absence and gone. The needlessness, the glee, as insects are pulled apart for no other reason than to see what happens. Horrific irony, the camp is the opposite of the Diaspora in a way that not even modern Israel can match. Who are we and how can our humanity be defined?

It is in the darkness that the deep finally comes. In the black where we can fully confront ourselves and when it all feels more real, less a fever dream of induced reality and the dreams interrupted at waking at 3am to make the early flight. As if, safe in the dark from the world around us, we feel able to view things in private. Here, in the dark, we can share our journey and our thoughts in the safety of a primal anonymity. A fiction, a comfort and our reflection. Now there is discussion of what has been seen, the remnants and the absence. Now the normalcy is not forced, it is languid. Like the dark itself. In the deep there is darkness and, in the darkness, are we perhaps our most free.

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