A few weeks ago I suddenly became curious about learning more about the experience of Jewish people during WWII. I have no idea what sparked it. Anyway, I went on Amazon to see what books people recommended on the Holocaust, specifically personal accounts, and then went to look for them at the library a few days later. The books I checked out were Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli and I Shall Live by Henry Orenstein.
I've avoided knowing more about the subject because it is incredibly sad and very hard to stomach. When I picked the first book up, by Dr. Nyiszli, and read the foreword, it almost immediately it got into details that any person with the ability to empathize could already begin to feel pain. So I thought to myself Why am I torturing myself? What good will come of reading the gritty details about something I already know happened and is in the past? and then I read this in the same foreword:
"What is the point of dwelling on the subject? The answer comes from the victims themselves. 'The victims of Nazi atrocities,' Meyer Lewis once wrote, ' hid fragmentary records of their experience, they scratched words on walls, they died hoping the world would someday know, not in statistics, but in empathy.' We are charged to listen."
I feel the least I could do is to really know their story. To cry and grieve for them.
The doctor's account is very matter of fact in the way he describes what he went through and what he saw. He was a brilliant man who was very skilled in his practices and was useful to the horrendous Dr. Mengele (an evil Nazi doctor who was an advocate of research into a superior Aryan race and how to use medicine to advance that agenda - he was particularly interested in studying twins so that he could find a way for German women to birth more than one child at a time to speed up the procreation of said Aryan race) because he had experience dissecting and studying bodies. The way in which he tells his story, really shows he had to really detach from reality. It seems really the only way people could survive was not to think too much about what they were seeing/doing/living. If you did, as some people fell victim to, you would pretty quickly descend into madness. All in all, I was encouraged by this man's ability to fight for his sanity (especially during this time in my life) and for his life and thankful he told his story.
Orenstein's story was told in a way in which you feel like you are right there with him. He starts with his childhood and goes on to tell in incredible detail what he lived day by day, from before the war started, to the escalation week to week, to finally being hunted, caught, and taken to the camps. Because you feel you are there with him, you experience all of his emotions with him. You feel the disbelief of everything going on around him, the madness of hiding in a wall for days on end, the stress of escaping, the panic, the loss of people around him. My heart rate was going bonkers while reading this book. Unfortunately I had to stop reading this book because like I mentioned in my last post, I am not in the best place with my mental health, and this book was hurting the progress I'm trying to make.
Anyway, reading on this topic not only made me incredibly sad and angry about what people had to endure, but it made me feel hopeless for humanity. Some people see the world as half empty (mostly evil) or half full (mostly good), and though most of my life I have easily and sometimes stupidly believed in the good of strangers, my perspective is changing. I don't know if it's an overshadowing of my depression and this ugly perspective will lift as I feel better, but lately I feel like the world is trash. Like most people are scum and don't have even the slightest feeling of empathy for their brothers and sisters just because they don't look/act like them. It's disgusting and I am ashamed to be a part of a species that was capable of something so horrible. And still continues to do awful things! North Korea's prisoners (like, literally ALL the people in North Korea are prisoners to their country, I don't just mean people in captivity) , the Rohingya genocide, the collapse of Venezuela, persecution of LBGT in Russia, etc. etc. etc.
Then I think about the people who helped. People who risked their lives to save others. People who today risk their safety and comfort to help and save others, and suddenly we don't seem so bad.