Friday, May 22, 2009

History and art

The carnage in eastern Europe unleashed by the Nazis has been described many times. Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich at War is nevertheless especially haunting because he cites the everyday diaries and letters sent home by German soldiers. These were not just the SS. Most of them eagerly engaged in unfathomable barbarity, routinely and sadistically dispensed against the Jewish populations they conquered. Before there were death camps, there were nooses, kerosene and matches, pistols and automatic weapons, nail-studded clubs, truncheons and attack dogs -- not to speak of cold, starvation and disease.

The author probes the combinations of racist, nationalist and religious impulses that drove the murderers. The enthusiasm of the Nazis' many eager helpers among the Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Romanian(and other) populations is documented.

Reading these materials makes one ache for demonstrations of acts of humanity, courage and heroism. I had never seen Hiding and Seeking, which my wife and I viewed last night. It is about Jewish survivors, some of whom were sheltered by courageous Poles, and the pilgrimage that three generations of the Jewish family make to rural Poland to seek and thank their saviours. Both the Jews and the Poles are conflicted and the movie shows this masterfully. See it.