Sunday, 27 January 2019
27th January: Holocaust Memorial Day
In 'If This a Man' Primo Levi, an Italian Jew incarcerated in Auschwitz,, describes (pages 134/5) the reaction of "civilians" to the prisoners who are marched out each day to perform work in the areas outside the camps.
. . . [We] are the untouchables to the civilians. They think, more or less explicitly, - with all the nuances lying between contempt and commiseration - that as we have been condemned to this life of ours, reduced to our condition, we must be tainted by some mysterious, grave sin. They hear us speak in many different languages, which they do not understand and which sound to them as grotesque as animal noises; they see us reduced to ignoble slavery , without honour and without names, beaten every day, more abject every day, and they never see in our eyes a light of rebellion, or of peace, or of faith. They know us as thieves and untrustworthy, muddy, ragged and starving, and mistaking the effect for the cause, they judge us worthy of our abasement. Who could tell one of our faces from another? For them we are 'Kazett',, a singular neutral word.
This naturally does not stop many of them throwing us a piece of bread or potato now and again, or giving us their bowls, after the distribution of 'Zivilsuppe' in the work-yards, to scrape and give back washed. They do it to get rid of some importunate starved look, or through a momentary impulse of humanity, or through simple curiosity to see us running from all sides to fight each other for the scrap, bestial and without restraint, until the strongest one gobbles it up, whereupon all the others limp away, frustrated.
The attitude of the "civilians" does not seem to me all that far removed from our present-day attitude to the increasing numbers of homeless, beggars and other misfits in our streets.
Happily Primo Levi describes (page133) a "more excellent way."
". . .[A]n Italian civilian worker brought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked not accepted any reward, becasue he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for a reward.
So Good Samaritans don't just exist in the stories of Jesus (or they didn't in 1944)