Man Leben – Dust of a journey


Wovon man nicht leben kann, darüber muss man schweigen [1]

Whereof one cannot live, thereof one must be silent.

You continue with the story of your life:

“Around 1990 after studying Oriental wisdom, I more or less lost my guilt and shame about my existence. Within a short period my aunt and my godmother died in 1993. Poland was easily accessible at that time. It was time to go to Auschwitz.

The name Auschwitz is derived from the Polish city name Oświęcim near the camp. Many Jews who lived in Oświęcim before the war, called this place Oshpitzin – the Yiddish word for guest – because this place was known for its hospitality before World War II [2].

In preparation for this visit, I have studies Shoah [3] made by Claude Lanzmann. On seeing this documentary I noticed how extensive and detailed the logistics must have been for the transportation and the accommodation of the many millions of people under difficult circumstances in time of war. These were targeted and far-reaching enterprises. Many people who were interviewed between 1974 and 1985, had repressed or altered their memories of the scale and scope – and their share in it. After questioning, these people did know the scope of the transports and the purpose of the camps often with embarrassment and shame. Their share was presented as fulfilling their orders as a minuscule wheel in a big scheme.

[4]

I have also looked at the statistics. Dachau was a concentration camp or a work camp where the prisoners were brought together to work. Most deaths in these camps were caused by heavy work, malnutrition, disease and abuse. Auschwitz II – also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau – was a death camp. Accurate data are no longer available, because these data have been destroyed near the end of the war. Most estimates indicate that approximately 1.3 million people are deported to the camps near Auschwitz. About 1.1 million people died. In Auschwitz II, more than 900,000 people have died according to estimates, of which 57 000 Dutch people – probably my father was one of them. After a journey of many days by train, a selection was made at arrival near the camp. Only the strongest people were selected for labour, the others went their death [5]. The number of deceased Jews in Auschwitz II is similar to all the inhabitants of Amsterdam including several nearby municipalities.

[6]

About three quarters of the Dutch Jews have not survived the war. The Jews have been easily selected by the accurate population registers. The deportees have been written out the population registers as “emigrated”. In total, approximately 110,000 Jews are deported from the Netherlands, of which about 5,000 have survived the concentration camps. The number of deceased Dutch Jews is similar to the full population of a city like Delft – including all the elderly and new-borns.

During the Second World War the other government caused the death of between 5,4 and 6 million Jews in Europe [7]. This is more than 700 times the number of soldiers buried on the war cemeteries in Omaha Beach near Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy or Henri Chapelle in Belgium: bottomless suffering.

The train journey to Oświęcim has lasted two days. In Oświęcim I have stepped into the footsteps of my aunt. I have never spoken about my visit to the camps at Auschwitz: I cannot do that and I do not want to. A week later I have returned to Amsterdam; empty inside and empty outside.

Several months later I have written three short poems:

Dust of a journey

Cannot be shaken away

Homely ashes

 

Volatile lives

Included in our marrow

Infinite time

 

All and all the world

Shapes in time’s rivers

Animated breath

In the camps near Dachau, I could not find reconciliation. The rooms for reconciliation in Dachau were not inviting for me to enter. On my journey to Dachau I had seen the study model for the continuum in Ulm. This study model included the entire universe in all Her simplicity and limitation. This room for reconciliation gave shelter and it included everything from the universe breathable in security and responsiveness.

After my visit to Auschwitz I have looked in each mirror for hope and consolation. In the mirrors I saw my sad, angry, guilty, acquiesced eyes. And also always the questions: “Who are you” and “How are you related to it and how are you separated from it”. On our Odyssey, we pose the same questions. In standing water I saw reflections of the world. With twigs and stones I have disrupted these images for a short time, but the images came back – bleak, cold, inhospitable.

[8]

The cracked glass of the Auschwitz Monument in Amsterdam reflects a part of my feelings after the visit to Auschwitz; personally, I would not crack the mirrors.

[9]

In the course of history, Auschwitz is not completely single out. If in a hunter/gatherers society a man wants to replace another man in the relation with a woman, than this struggle may cause the death of one of the men. Groups of people have fought with each other on the ownership of land: this often resulted in a casualty rate of 10% [10]. Since ancient times, the besiege and sacking of cities included customary rituals and rights: looting, killing men and leading women and children away as slaves was common practice. Since classical antiquity, warfare with professional armies is endemically anchored in our societies. With the arising of our current States, conscription is also introduced. By registration, the States did know exactly where the young men and the horses/vehicles were located for deployment during warfare. We know the consequences: on the way to Moscow, Napoleon caused more victims amongst his soldiers than during the horrors on the retreat [11]. The casualties among the soldiers during the German/French wars run into the millions. Battlefields have always been a Armageddon, but the extent and duration of the fighting increased vastly. In addition, the number of civilian victims increased dramatically and the massacres regularly include elements of genocide – think of systematic massacres in Africa and in Cambodia.

But Auschwitz II and the other death camps under the other government in Germany are exceptional. In 1942 and 1943 when the Germany’s conquests slowed down and the war effort were directly felt by the Germans, a scapegoat was easily found and stigmatised. It seems as though the other regime – that already had for 10 years a leader as a “person in the middle” for restoration of the disturbed trust – thought that the sacrifice of a scapegoat may reduce the problems. This sacrifice has been exceptional in size, effort and duration: “The sacrifice was performed with a scientific-systematic, technical nearly impeccable style. Without hurry, well designed, registered and regulated. The direct perpetrators: not rarely brutes and illiterates, but often well-educated and intellectuals with a ineradicable love for literature, arts and music; most of them have been caring house fathers” [12].

In the areas controlled by the other government, everything and everyone should have had a smaller or larger share in execution of this sacrifice. The subsequent efforts to hide this share speak for themselves [13]. In Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah [14] we see a reflection of these efforts to shielding. If I look in the mirror after my visit to Auschwitz, I still see a fraction of this effort for shielding – like my aunt I am not able to speak about this image in the mirror: I cannot and I do not want to.

Many years later, I read that a group of American Buddhists visited Auschwitz for consolation of everything and everyone [15]. From the long lists, they have recited the names of the deceased including the year of birth year and death year. Herewith the size became visible: the age of the deceased varies between a few months and more than 80 years.

My trip to Auschwitz took on breath, two weeks, more than 4500 years, from the beginning of the universe to the present, and from the day before yesterday to the day after tomorrow.

My everyday life In Amsterdam took its course again.

More about this in the following message”, you say.

The following post continues on your life after the journey to Auschwitz.


[1] Free rendering of the last sentence from: Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Amsterdam: Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennip, 1976 p. 152

[2] Source: Glassman, Bernie, Bearing Witness – A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace. New York: Bell Tower, 1998, p. 4

[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoah_(film)

[4] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Birkenau_gate.JPG

[5] Sources: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_(concentratiekamp)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_concentration_camp and http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust

[6] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_(concentratiekamp)

[7] Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust

[8] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiegel_(optica)

[9] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Auschwitz_monument_amsterdam.JPG

[10] Source: Keegan, John, A History of Warfare. London: Pimlico – Random House, 2004

[11] Source: Zamoyski, Adam, 1812 – Napoleons fatale Veldtocht naar Moskou. Utrecht: Uitgeverij Balans, 2005

[12] Source: First paragraph of the Introduction from – Presser, Jacques, Ondergang. De vervolging en verdelging van het Nederlandse Jodendom 1940-1945 (twee delen), Den Haag: Staatsdrukkerij, 1985 – digitale version.

[13] Amongst others the publishing of “Presser, Jacques, Ondergang. De vervolging en verdelging van het Nederlandse Jodendom 1940-1945 (twee delen)” in 1965 caused discussion on the participation of the Netherlands in this “Sacrifice”.

[14] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoah_(film)

[15] See “Part I” of: Glassman, Bernie, Bearing Witness – A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace. New York: Bell Tower, 1998

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