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SIDIC Periodical XXII - 1989/1-2
Fiftieth Anniversary of Kristallnacht (Pages 16 - 18)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Fiftieth Anniversary of Kristad_Nacht - A Survivor's Testimony
Edith Bruck


When these things happened in Germany and they said I was an animal for the slaughter, I didn't know a thing; in 1938I was six years old! The Germans and Germany were at the North Pole as far as I was concerned, and yet I suffered from the fact that I was a Jew, a poor Jew in a poor Hungarian village.

The Christian milieu
To my mind the people knew the Fascist ideologies of the Nazis on race, but what they knew they felt was legitimated by their former innate aversion for the Jews, the deicides, —an aversion handed down over the centuries and spread wherever Catholic and Christian culture was to be found. This crime was known even to the illiterate or idiots in the village and sooner or later it was inevitable that I should be told, at the end of a childrens' squabble, that I had killed Jesus, their God. In the eyes of all of them, I, a Jewish child, was born guilty of a crime worthy only of eternal shame, a crime so immeasurable that it left me speechless everytime, as if it suffocated me, had me by the throat. At home I often asked my mother if what they said were true, why they hated us, why they accused us of such an infamous crime? She, poor soul, poorly educated, screamed at me that it was untrue, that Jesus was a Jew, our brother, who became a Christian for the Christians, who made him their God. But who killed him and why? I insisted. My mother, to get rid of me and my questions, answered thatJesus was judged by those in authority and we did not come into it at all; they and the Romans, who were our oppressors and masters, made the decision. They hated us because we had not become Christians in our turn. Feeling myself to be innocent of such a crime, I could not disbelieve my mother even if the question still worried me and the representation of Jesus and the Cross always frightened me.

Being innocent, I suffered from the accusation, I suffered from the general intolerance, which towards 1942-3 was focussed in a total contempt and a stupid and blind hatred. I perceived that something ugly was happening in the world, something apocalyptic, but I still did not really know anything; nevertheless I believed that the adults must know, even if they hid everything from us, the children.

And thus the world fell about my ears at twelve years of age, and I found myself in Auschwitz simply because I was Jewish. Auschwitz was the tip of the iceberg of evil, the unimaginable, the final stage of an aversion which had always dogged my steps.

The Teaching of Contempt
Auschwitz was the blackest fruit of Nazi Fascist ideology; nevertheless the roots of contempt lay in the Christian culture, that soil in which the symbolic name had grown and thrived, a name which must weigh on the conscience of the Western Christian. Frankly, Nazism for me, deported as I was from a little Hungarian village, was simply the complement, the prolongation and the end of something which had everything to do with what the priests taught in the school to children and their parents. Aversion, dislike, contempt, hatred; I had always associated these things with Christians who did not want us because we had not recognised Jesus as the Saviour; therefore we had crucified him, so they said, so it was written in the Gospels, the New Testament. And notwithstanding the Second Vatican Council, which thanks to Pope John XXIII cancelled the centuries-old accusation, I have heard it repeated even in recent years. This is because ordinary people are not concerned with Vatican Councils but continue to believe what they have always believed. This is why, fifty years after Kristalbracht,I still believe that, apart from Nazi ideology on race, Auschwitz has something to say to the Christian conscience. To erradicate evil it must be accepted, recognised, faced up to, and this has not yet really happened, even if something has been done and is still being done.
The Jews after Auschwitz
Fatally and inevitably Auschwitz has changed and even poisoned Jewish consciousness and has transformed the very image of theJew in the world, because afterAuschwitz a Jewish state just had to be born, a country which, like any other country, does not allow a clean conscience. I, who abhor all violence and injustice, often ask myself if it would not be better to continue to dream of a promised land, flowing with milk and honey, rather than face up to a reality which gives me double suffering for the Israeli people and for the Palestinian people, the last victims of Auschwitz.

Apart from Auschwitz there are still persecutions, pogroms, edicts, secular inquisitions, denial of human rights to Jews in the Diaspora, to justify the creation of a refuge state, a country which eternally fights for its survival and security, as governments say.

The new Jew was born with the Jewish State; nevertheless in my opinion he carries within himself memories of fear, intolerance, death. It is this memory which pushes politicians to intransigence and an inflexibility which leads to aggressiveness before there is question of attack. This sad reality is a bitter fruit of Auschwitz./ do not intend to justify the policies of Shamir or Rabin; I only seek to analyse the origins of something which has changed the moral identity of the Jew, the faith and the conscience of a people who are nonviolent both by lofty ideals and by faith. I say ''people" because for better, for worse, the Jews are always lumped together, considered to be all equal and all to blame wherever they findthemselves, yesterday simply because they were Jews, today because the Israeli government is politically mistaken. The Israeli government may actually make mistakes hut this should not give rise to a new wave of antisemitism; in factit has done so and this is an anxiety.

Revisionist History
Added to all this is the fact that in the latter part of the seventies Geman historians and other little known nostalgic individuals began a revisionist history which obscured the reality of Auschwitz, sowing doubts and lies about things they did not know or which they preferred should not have happened. And we few survivors, inconvenient witnesses as we are, must cry out that it was true, as if we were made out to be liars. This, frankly, is the most tragic thing that could have happened, and more tragic than what did actually happen. Perhaps it was this that threw even Primo Levi, "down the stairs". In a distorted wayeven the survivors themselves lend weight to the idea that it might be possible to cast doubt on Auschwitz. It is all the more worrying in that the lie soothes the human conscience and, paradoxically, does do good to the victims. No-one likes to be so discri- - minated against and hated as to end up in Auschwitz, where human potential for evil touched rock-bottom. Only with the truth can humanity "climb the slope" again, and that has not yet happened. Auschwitz is something with which it is difficult to come to terms because it is an irrational absurdity, a species of maniacal collective murder by normal people, and this is frightening by the very fact that it could happen again.

Despite so much bloodshed and martyrdom the forces of evil are still strong today. Our sacrifice has not saved the world. Therefore we must not forget. This is the aim of my book of memories..."
Could it happen again?

It could happen again because many knew about it, kept silent about it, allowed or collaborated in the construction and activities of Auschwitz. German civilians saw us pass, heard our screams. They saw the children, the courageous mothers, the old people, the ordinary soldiers who did not belong to the SS or the Wehrmack. Everything seemed normal, ordinary to all the other people in the world. I assure you that meeting a civilian was more painful than working in the crematoria. Unfortunately the negative potential in a person if exploited, is always there ready to explode, yesterday like today. Perhaps the limitations are within humanity itself, inconsistent material which, according to circumstances, can be used for good or for evil. As long as the individual conscience is uninformed, as long as it is not capable of taking moral responsibility on itself, it is always at the mercy of the dictator of the moment. An educational revolution is needed!

Auschwitz a continuing evil
Over the last fifty years,even when this is not apparent, Auschwitz has conditioned relations between Jews and the rest of the world with the State of Israel. It has changed relations of the survivors with the groups in which they live, has conditioned private relations, those of friendship and love. The ex-deportee remains in some measure prisoner of his/her past, remains alone, other people are inevitably excluded from their direct experience. Anyone who has not lived such an experience "in their own akin" cannot begin to understand what it is like. In fact when we came back from the camps and attempted to tell some part of it, no-one wanted to listen, they could not believe it.

In spite of this, literary testimonies, documents, the cinema, have done more than educational institutes, and it is not possible to draw a veil of silence over Auschwitz without touching, not only the history and geography of places, but also the very conscience of humanity.

Perhaps it is impossible to face up to Auschwitz– it is too great a tragedy escaping human and moral reasoning. It is something which has slipped from the hands even of those who took part in it physically and not simply academically. How can Auschwitz be explained? Perhaps it is this impossibility which gave rise to the silence, the forgetfulness of a past which is never past for those who lived it and which cannot belong to the past of humanity but only to its future.

Before ending I would like to recall the beautiful essay of Carmine Di Sante published in 1985, twenty years after Nostra Aerate, in Rassegna di Teologia, above all the quotation which farms:
The Holocaust cannot be reduced to a monstrous criminal act to be deplored and then forgotten. Auschwitz has a message which, if listened to, reveals a sickness at work, not on the margins of our society but at its very heart, in the very best of what we have inherited. The Holocaust challenges the foundations of western society. It constrains us to look boldly in the face all that is negative in our religious and cultural heritage.” ("I Radici Teoiogici dole antisernitsmo" XXVI 1985, pp. 211-225.)

* Edith Bruck was born in Hungary. She Is a well known writer who now lives in Rome
This Es the text of a talk given at SIDIC, Rome on 9 November 1988.


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