I began reading Imre Kertesz’s FATELESSNESS – it is a story told from the viewpoint of a 14 year old Hungarian Jewish boy, Georg Koves, who is sent to Auschwitz about 1944. I found the book after visiting the Washington, D.C. Holocaust Museum a couple of years ago. I have myself visited only one of the Nazi Death Camps – the one at Dachau (see my blog Jesus Christ the Conqueror of Death). I found the Holocaust Museum every bit as emotionally gut wrenching as I found Dachau. What humans are willing to inflict on other humans is unconscionable and yet it is consciously and deliberately done.
I am neither a great TV or movie watcher – one reason you rarely see me comment on TV on this blog. I find human torture and suffering to be repugnant and yet our society has an insatiable desire to be entertained by it – the more violence and torture in a movie the more people flock to them voyeurishly hoping to see some form of excruciating cruelty they previously could not imagine. For my part I just don’t put the TV on all that often, and I am much happier for it. I will also admit that I found our country’s willingness to use torture on our enemies to be barbaric and immoral. Whatever “intelligence” we may have gained by torture, we proved we had already lost our intelligence through our willingness to torture. Allowing ourselves to become inhuman (no matter how justified we think it is to do so) ever lowers the bar of our own humanity. We lose as a society and we become increasingly accepting of lower forms of barbarism and indecency as shown by the media entertainment we purchase.
Kertesz was himself imprisoned in Buchenwald as a youth. He writes his novel in a fascinating style of looking through the eyes of a young man who believes the world is to make sense, and he tries to find the sense and sensibility of whatever horrors he encounters.
He arrives at Auschwitz in the same frame of mind – thinking he has now arrived at the work camp where he does expect to be given a job. He is frightened by the “convicts” in their prison garments who unload them from the cattle car – the prisoners who work as guards. He assumes the barbed wire and armed soldiers are there to guard the “convicts” and keep people like himself safe. He wonders what crimes these convicts must have committed but has no sense that they are guilty of the same thing for which he has been sent to Auschwitz – being Jewish.
Kertesz has Georg seeing the unimaginable but saying to himself, “which was understandable, of course, if I thought about it.” Always trying not just to make sense of what he sees, but even to impose a moral goodness on it because it was after all such an ordered world – this world of no God, no boundaries, no morality, no humanity.
“Everything was in motion, everything functioning, everyone in their place and doing what they had to do, precisely, cheerfully, in a well-oiled fashion. I saw smiles on many of the faces, timid or more self confident, some with no doubts and some already with an inkling of the outcome in advance, yet still essentially all uniform, roughly the same as the one I has sensed in myself just before. … It was all very clean, tidy, and pretty—truly…”
In the world of a Nazi death camp – a world gone insane, a world in which the expulsion of God made everything permissible – there was total Teutonic order, precision, perfection. All is tidy, orderly, clean. Order masking the chaos of the abyss into which Georg and his companions were being forced to descend as their humanity was stripped from they; and into which their tormentors willfully abandoned their own humanity to enter.
Next blog: The Holocaust: Not Hell, but Human