My old friend Mark Kramer has been in Amsterdam and France attending a journalism conference. In response to my post on the genocidal rabbi here, he wrote about a moving conversation he had with an artisan/bed and breakfast owner J. about the holocaust.
The occupation had destroyed the ghetto and the shacks had been dismantled for wood to warm others. This was a prelude to the murders and the stealing by the concentration camp administrators of clothing, gold from the teeth, and anything else that could be recycled in Germany. See Celia Gilbert’s poem July 20, 1944 here. If one wants to understand the madness that still haunts Germany, Austria and the greater Reich, think of this efficiency of ethnic cleansing and what it meant to dress one self in those clothes, have those fillings. I wrote a poem Carmelites about that here.
But as the kind man who talked with Mark indicates, most people in his neighborhood despised the Nazi bounty hunter through whom racism spoke so viciously. Many reached out to help. The crimes were, however, immense, the ability to resist in small ways real but not what it needed to be.
The kindness of the man came perhaps from his father and from trying to heal, in some small way, what Europe had become.
Why are any of us here rather than, like our brothers and sisters, consumed in such circumstances? The boy who was murdered was just an ordinary 7 year old…
The man’s father was, in the conversation (perhaps trying to reach the murderer), affected by anti-semitism – bankers are not Jews. The Nazis did not slaughter bankers but were bankrolled by many of them.
The bounty hunter brought a 7 year old boy to the death camps. The words, too, burn the page.
Sadly, the man who called for the murder of Palestinian babies is a rabbi (“of all people,” as my friend Doug wrote). This man would also be an isolated sort living in his madness, but for the corruption of the Israeli army and its misuse of the Torah. This has some parallels with American “Christians” who proseletyze for war crimes at the Air Force Academy or call for crusades (including George W. Bush), but except for John Yoo, they don’t usually advocate crimes against children. What kind of a world is it where governments license such people and the darkness which they make real, into which they enter?
There are many more people like the kind man and his father. There are Martin Luther Kings and Abraham Heschels. There were all kinds of resistance and acts of courage from below by communists and democrats and Christians...The Nazis fell.
But the darkness remains.
Mark’s story:“Outside of Amsterdam last week, I chatted with a kind man, J., nearly 80, who'd become a carpenter, a woodbutcher really. He was restoring a century old barge, and had built an exquisite post-and-beam B&B in Holysloot, to which he only admits push-bikers. I was not a push-biker, but was a friend of his neighbor, and he'd kindly admitted me too. We chatted late into the night. I asked his memories of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. He said the Nazis paid bounty-hunters who occasionally turned out Jews long after the Jewish quarter had been emptied, and the flats raided for firewood against the winter cold. One nasty fellow in J's district made a hobby of it, in spite of the contempt of their neighbors. The fellow had just reported a seven year old boy who was half-Jewish, and the kid had been arrested, and was gone. J's father had scolded the guy, asking, how could you--he was just a little boy, not a banker! And the neighbor had answered, ‘First they grow into teen-agers, and then into JEWS.’"