Descent into Hell

FatelessnessI 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 DachauIcon2was 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

The Risen Son and Sunrise

NikolaiVelimI liked this verse from Serbian Orthodox Bishop St. Nikolai Velimirovich as he looks at how the world might be affected if the sun behaved like a human being.   Frequently in Orthodox hymns and prayers there is expressed the notion that all of creation obeys God by simply following their natural paths – only humans rebel against God.  That image too is interesting – we often think of animals acting only on instinct, but the hymns suggest that actually they are obeying the role to which God has assigned them in creation.  Same is true of the Sun, moon and stars and other inanimate objects which  simply are what God has designed them to be.  One needs only think of Psalm 104 read at each Vespers which among other things says:  the wind is the messenger of God, the mountains and valleys rise and sink to their appointed places, the animals obey God as does the sun and moon.  The Akathist, “Glory to God for all Things,” says to God “all nature obeys you, I alone do not.”  Humans, the only creatures endowed with intelligence, free will, conscience and self awareness, as well as being created in God’s image and likeness and having a soul.  Despite our being creatures whom God favors with His gifts, humans still rebel against God.   Yet we are capable of learning even from the example of the inanimate sun how to serve God.  In his book PRAYERS BY THE LAKE  St. Nikolai wrote:

SunriseArise O sons of the Sun of God!  Arise, the merciful sun has risen and has begun to pour its light lavishly over the dark fields of the earth.  It has risen to set you free from sleep’s gloom and terror.
Your sins of yesterday are not written out on the sun.  The sun does not remember or seek revenge for anything.  On its face there are no wrinkles from your forehead, nor is there any sadness, envy, or sorrow.  Its joy lies in giving, its youth—its rejuvenation—lies in serving.  Blessed are those who serve, for they shall not grow old.

What if the sun were to imitate you, my neighbors?  How little light it would shed on earth, you misers!  How bloody its light would be, you murderers!  How green it would become with envy when it saw greater suns than itself, you envious people!  How red with wrath it would become when it heard the profanities below, you short tempered people!  How yellow it would become with yearning for the beauty of the stars, you greedy people!  How pale it would become with fear, you greedy people!   How pale it would become with fear, if no on marked its way, you cowards!  How dark it would become with worry, you worrisome worriers!   How wrinkled and old it would become living on yesterday’s wrongdoing, you vengeful people!  How astray it would go from the right way if it fought over rights, you auctioneers of rights!  How cold and dead it would become, and how it would envelope the entire universe with its death, you preachers of death!

Oh how fortunate it is for the world that the sun will never imitate you, O sons and daughters of earth!

Indeed, the sun does not know many things as you do, but it does know two things eternally:  that it is a servant and a symbol.  It knows that it is a servant of the One who kindled it and that it is a symbol of the One who put it at His service.  Be servants of the One who illuminates you with the sun on the outside and with Himself on the inside, and you will taste the sweetness of eternal youth.

Be  a symbol of the One who put you among the animals of the earth, and you will surpass the radiance of the sun.  Truly all the animals around you will swim in happiness beneath the rays of your goodness, even as moons swim around suns.

The Sun obeys God and shines eqaully on the righteous and on the wicked  (Matthew 5:45).