Wednesday, May 07, 2008


liz_marcs went digging for some references to "the stuff everybody knows" and got a surprise. No, "everybody" doesn't know it. Not even professional historians. Things drop into the cracks; folks don't like to admit, even (or especially!) to themselves, things they've done in bad situations.

In this case, it's a holocaust story. There was a brothel at Auschwitz, with women taken from the camps. Supposedly, the Nazis stocked it only with non-Jewish women. liz_marcs' story was an account of a Jewish woman who was forced to work in the brothel. Seems simple enough; the inmates of the camps were mostly Jewish, so it would make sense to take the women that they already had. Apparently, the Nazis not having Jewish women in the brothels is a big point for some.

Anything touching the Holocaust is so loaded with emotion that it's hard to deal with. A few years back, I saw an emotional on-line argument about the Nazis' use of diesel engines to produce carbon monoxide to kill Jews. Diesel engines supposedly don't produce enough CO to be deadly. Nobody brought up the obvious answer (and No Way was I going to post anything to that site!) — whoever reported the diesel engines wasn't an automotive engineer. Unfortunately, anybody who suggested the tiniest change in the Official Story (ie, perhaps they were actually gasoline engines?) was accused of being a Holocaust denier. I can't figure out Holocaust deniers — where do they think the Jews (and Gypsies, etc.) went? Flying saucers? Pellucidar?

The first step in "the scientific method" is "Observe. Gather data. Measure." If we let "what we wished we did" replace "what really happened", we pollute our data. Any conclusion based on polluted data is questionable, at best. Stories like liz_marcs' are tiny pieces of the large and very ugly picture that is the Twentieth Century. Soon, there won't be any more Holocaust survivors or WWII veterans, and all we'll have is their stories. Yes, memory is unreliable, but it's all we have. Put together enough stories and hopefully, the inaccurate parts will cancel each other out. WWI, Nazism, Communism — we don't want to go through anything like that, ever again. We need know, first, just what did happen.

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

— Joseph Stalin

It's easy to gather statistics — This many dead, that many wounded, so many buildings destroyed. Stories like liz_marcs' drag us out of the realm of statistics and back into the realm of tragedy. Consider what was going through the mind of InteresujÄ…ca Kobieta, who had plenty of food, plenty of soap and water, cosmetics and perfume, watching the thousands in the camp being marched off to their deaths, and knowing that she could rejoin them any time she didn't satisfy a Nazi officer. I simply can't imagine it. I'd think that this would be far worse torture than anything physical the Nazis could have done to her.

Jews ask themselves "What did we do wrong?"
And the answer that comes back is the most terrifying one possible:

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