Through a chance confluence of events, it happened that I had a few Nazi-related history lessons this weekend..
I read This Way for Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen over the weekend, by the pool and on the plane. It's a collection of Tadeusz Borowski's stories from his experiences in Auschwitz. I first became interested in Borowski via the portrait of him in Milosz's Captive Mind. Borowski was a holocaust survivor and poet, who later joined ranks with the communists in Poland, only to commit suicide at the age of 28. Although the motivation for someone's suicide can never be known for sure, there's little doubt in my mind that his disillusionment with the Communist regime played a large part. Shortly before his suicide, a close friend was locked up and tortured by the Communists.. After surviving the horrors of the Nazis, his one hope for a "new and better order" (as Milosz put it) ended up a mirage.
Anyways, his melancholy spirit is evident in his stories from Auschwitz.. A sortof detached, sad commentary on the brutal reality of an environment where humanity has basically lost all meaning. Milosz called Borowski "The Disappointed Lover", and in reading these tales, you start to understand the depth of that statement. He also had a keen eye for the surreal.. Here's a bit from a story describing a soccer match they had orchestrated on a newly constructed soccer field:
The procession moved along slowly, growing in size as more and more people poured from the freight cars. And then it stopped. The people sat down on the grass and gazed in our direction. I returned with the ball and kicked it back inside the field. It traveled from one foot to another and, in a wide arc, returned to the goal. I kicked it towards a corner. Again it rolled out into the grass. Once more I ran to retrieve it. But as I reached down, I stopped in amazement - the ramp was empty. Out of the whole colorful summer procession, not one person remained. The train too was gone ...
Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death.
This sort of thing makes for good airplane reading, because it's really hard to complain about being cramped on a plane while you're reading about millions being herded naked onto cattlecars to their deaths. Not the most uplifting book, though, no. I'd offer to let you borrow it (I think I even promised it to Aaron), but alas, I left it on the plane home from Wisconsin, so some flight attendant or passenger gets a crack at it.
Last night, then, I checked my mail and saw I had gotten Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage in from Netflix. I had read a bit about White Rose and the Scholls a bit in the past, and so I thought I'd check out this movie. It was pretty good -- a straightforward account of what happened. The performances were all excellent. What I enjoyed even more than the movie, though, were interviews with the original witnesses and friends in the special features. There's also a clip of Roland Freisler that is nothing short of amazing. Freisler was the eccentric (to say the least) judge who ordered the execution of Christopher Probst, Sophie and Hans Scholl. I thought in the movie that the actor playing Freisler laid on the "crazy nazi" a little bit too thick. Wow, was I ever wrong -- if anything he underplayed it. The same clip -- from some trial where Freisler preside -- is on youtube, check it out.
One thing I find interesting is the extent to which Sophie Scholl is heralded as the prime actor and hero -- both historically and in fictional portrayals, whereas Hans is relegated to the background, comparatively. Given the story of how things played out, and their respective involvement with White Rose, I can't quite figure it out.. I suppose it could be as simple as the fact that she was a girl, and a relatively pretty one, making it even more exceptional or surprising that she'd be this ballsy underground revolutionary. And so we have sortof this projection of romanticism in it because of that -- some sort of Joan of Arc syndrome. I don't know. She was clearly a remarkable woman, arguably more interesting in several aspects, perhaps, than her cohorts. But I find myself wondering if the focus on her alone diminishes the contributions of Probst, her brother Hans, and others who were involved in White Rose. Anyway, if you're not familiar with the story, check out the movie, it's interesting.
I need something a little more uplifting, now, though, sheesh.