The Fool of Auschwitz
Posted on July 11, 2012
The Fool of Auschwitz
The concentration camp routine brought with it a perverse, malevolent normality. Early Spring of 1944 was little different from twelve months earlier, when he had first arrived, exhausted and sleep deprived, at a place called Auschwitz. He had found himself being herded off the train like a dumb, unfeeling beast. They had almost immediately split him apart from his beautiful Anna, and her last, desperate, fleetingly helpless glance in his direction, was to be his final memory of his gentle, lifelong partner.
Now, after yet another long night in the cramped and filthy barracks, hundreds of them together, stacked on small shelves like unwanted specimens in a forgotten laboratory, hungry, filthy, and numb with distress, he stirred his painful body with the motions of a walking ghost. He shuffled now, head stooped, shoulders hunched. Past the barbed wire and the impersonal gates, and underneath the watchful gaze of machine gun towers. He walked past the baying Alsatian dogs, held back with difficulty by their handlers, snarling, baring their teeth, eager to bite.
It was all a far cry from the old days. Back at the Berlin University Hospital, when he had been a tall figure, erect and energetic, striding down the long, white corridors. With nurses, interns, and hospital administrators desperately following along behind. Trying to keep up with the great strides of his never resting mind. He had loved being a doctor, he had loved being needed, and if he had ever felt pride in his achievements, it was never the arrogance of conceit. But rather a heady, drinking in of the sheer joy of learning, teaching, exploring, and discovering the hidden beauty of the anatomy of Man. The way the human body was put together never ceased to amaze him. To him, the human body was sacred. A temple that housed man’s Spirit. He took the doctor’s oath of Hippocrates as a sacred trust, as an almost Divine Mission, to bring comfort and cure to all men. All men…
Sometimes, amidst the shouts, the abuse, the taunting and the rifle butts, he would reflect on all the young German Nazis he had treated. Those same men, who now screamed hatred and brutality, who worked themselves into outraged fury over the slightest perceived transgression, who kicked and slapped, who snarled and spat… those same men, only a few years earlier, when stricken by illness, would have flocked to his surgery. There they would have hung on every word the famed Doctor would utter. With awe in their eyes. Or they would have competed with one another for janitorial or nursing positions. He would have instructed them, guided them, encouraged them, or scolded them.
But now… those days were gone forever. To them, he was just another flea bitten skeleton, wrapped in rags. A Jew, an outcast, a usurper, a thief, and the cause of too many ills and wickedness in German society to enumerate. He would see the contempt in their faces. The loathing. There was never a doubt in the poisoned minds of these young men, that what they were doing was anything else but just and proper. Their cocksure demeanor, their unflinching expressions, the savagery of their actions, all bore witness to the complete lack of self questioning or doubt. It was all the fault of the Jews, and now they were getting their richly deserved punishments. Another kick, another slap, another fist full in somebody’s face. A rifle butt positively slamming against a human skill. There was no compassion. No gentleness. No forgiving.
For a while, they had treated him slightly better. His status as a doctor had elevated him slightly. But only for a while. The pretense had fallen away soon enough. They didn’t care if he could save lives. Relieve suffering. That was not the point. Who cared about what happened to the Jews?
The curses rang in his ears from early morning until late at night. At first he had been shocked. They had been told that they were going to be relocated. They had been allowed to take some prized personal possessions. He had thought he would have been continuing to work as a doctor. But the awful truth had come into full view. The ugliness, the hate, and the automated, mechanized, industrial style of Death.
Always the smoke. Everywhere. He knew what it meant. The way it circled, and rose, and fell again. The way it billowed, fell away, and then erupted forth in a whole new obscene blast of Death and Futility. Sometimes dark, sometimes much lighter, sometimes tantalizingly indeterminate. But always it signaled Death, and the utter Absurdity of Man. Good people, bad people, mediocre people. Artists, scientists, builders, housewives, dreamers, musicians, and mechanics. All were being killed, exterminated, cremated, like so many rodents. It was as if the sum total of their achievements, their happiness, their poetry and their songs, their ideals and the affections, their compassion and their caring, all stood only in one brief moment in time. Soon, to be destroyed, to be brought back to nothing. All for nothing. All that education, and training, and hard work, and skill, and experience. All for nothing. All the tenderness, the lips closed softly on one another in the playful light of a setting sun, the cradling of a newborn child, the cooing and the baby talk, the laughter and the tears… all for nothing. Wasted. Pointless. Futile. The Absurdity of Man.
It was easy to go mad. Rabbi Jacobson had gone mad. A cold blooded execution, a triple hanging, performed almost offhandedly by bored young soldiers, had driven the Rabbi over the edge. He had stretched out his arms, and screamed to the sky above:
“My God, my God! Why do you let them do this? These are your people they are killing!”
And in answer, from the skies above, had come, deafeningly, the sound of silence and indifference. No God had emerged to save his people. The Rabbi, waiting, arms outstretched, finally, had bowed his head. Then, turning to the assembled crowd, ashen faced, he had announced:
“There is no God!”
With that, he had walked away, finally a totally broken man, a lost man, his lifelong Faith crushed irrevocably and forever. People had watched him go, and mourned.
The doctor too had watched, and had seen the unsettling impact on his fellow Jews. It was as if even what little they had left, their Faith, the Hope and Trust in God Above, even that, was being taken away and trampled on. There was nothing left except to die. To die like those beasts, hanging limp from those gallows ropes, heads twisted grotesquely at an unnatural angle.
The doctor too had often questioned his own faith, and intellectually examined his own long held beliefs. But always, always, his logical reasoning was overwhelmed by the dazzling simplicity of his Faith. The utter conviction that, despite all his intellectual concerns, instinctively, intuitively, emotionally, he simply knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God was both near and True, that God cared, was aware, and that, in the long run, none of this awful suffering would be allowed to stand. He would try to tell himself that perhaps his Faith was just some sort of self protection by a desperate mind. The ultimate crutch, the ultimate self delusion, willing and surrendering, brought on by present fears and unspeakable terrors. In other words, that he was fooling himself, knowingly, deliberately, to protect his mind from the horror around him. But try as he might to believe that, he could not.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father…
He knew in his heart, that God was true. His head, his mind, his most determined atheist reasoning, was no match for the quiet conviction in his heart. But what nonsense was that? What paradox of opposites?
He would wonder about it, puzzle about it, and shake his head. And study the smoke. How could he be so quietly sure in his Faith in the True God, whilst all around him unfolded endless acts of unspeakable brutality and inhumanity? Was it self delusion or a gift? A madness, or something precious beyond belief? Was he the fool? The fool of Auschwitz? Despite all his education and all his brilliance, was he deluded by primitive instinct? The urge to survive? Survive beyond death? Survive the smoke?
* * * * * *
The day the Doctor died, he was again studying the smoke from the burning ovens. The crematorium. The death smoke. The way it billowed, and rose. And was knocked down by the wind. And rose, and swirled, and became shredded. And always there was new smoke, and always it was buffeted, and shredded, and carried away.
And he saw the smoke, effortlessly, curl around the ugly barbed wire. The vicious barbs could not touch it, or hurt it, or stop it. Nor could the watch towers, with all their guns. The guards could not shoot it, and the snarling Alsatian dogs could not bite it.
The smoke was free. Gloriously, free.
He smiled then, knowingly, understandingly, almost amused. At last. He understood. Everything made sense…
A young guard, furiously, screamed at him:
“You old fool! Back to work! You blasted Jew! Back to work I say!”
In answer, the old Doctor, slowly turned to his accuser, and a ghost of a gentle smile played around his worn face. In his eyes was no hatred, only pity. The rifle butt that slammed down on the old Doctor’s skull was too much. It shattered his skull, and caused an instant aneurism. He fell hard, face first into the mud. With difficulty, he rolled onto his side, and looked up. The doctor’s last sight on earth, as the soldier furiously kicked the bloodied head, was the black jackboot slamming at his face. It seemed disembodied, unnatural.
But above and behind the boot, everywhere, smoke… swirled free.
And he… he saw the smoke, effortlessly, curl around the ugly barbed wire. The vicious barbs could not touch it, or hurt it, or stop it. Nor could the watch towers, with all their guns. The guards could not shoot it, and the snarling Alsatian dogs could not bite it.
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 11, 2012, 9:25 pm