My job was to separate clothes from the people what were with our transport when they went to the gas chambers. They brought the clothes back, and we have to separate the things. (That’s) how I found out. When I came to work and I start to separate the clothes what they brought in, I found the clothes from my brother, his pictures and everything he had with him.
Former Polish prisoner of war deported to Sobibor in 1942
During the course of this evening’s program I read excerpts like the one above from Witness: Voices from the Holocaust.
In the introduction for tonight’s program I talk about how certain names, places and things whether they be real or fictional have become iconic. I list names like Elvis, Sherlock Holmes, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander. Then added places and things like Golgotha, Transylvania, The World Trade Center, Auschwitz, Treblinka and the number…six million.
The good thing about becoming iconic is that when you say a name like Auschwitz you needn’t explain what it is–everyone knows what you mean. The bad thing about an icon is that it has become symbol. In the case of concentration camps there is the danger that the torture, the beatings, the starvation, the murders, the inhuman treatment will be replaced by symbols…a shorthand. That’s why books like Witness:Voices from the Holocaust and photographic exhibitions like Sylvia: Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka are so vitally important. They keep us in touch with the reality of the horror.
It was people–living people. People who breathed and bleed who were taken to these places. Many–MOST–who never returned. And let it be remembered it wasn’t six million but possibly more than twice that number–if you include the people with disabilities, the homosexuals, the Romani, and all the others the nazi considered enemies or inferior–who went and never came back.
Yesterday marked the commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day a pure and noble event to be sure but let’s not let it become the remembrance of “six million” or “twelve million” or “seventeen million”. No, let us remember Chaim E. who discovered his brother had been exterminated when he “processed” his brother’s belongings. Let us remember Helen K. who held her sister-in-law in her arms till she was stiff and cold with the rigor of death. Let us remember Arnold C. who, at age 11, Mengele slapped and called a liar because he swore he was 14 thus saving himself while his friends of the same age were taken to the gas chambers. Let us remember Sylvia, Viktor Koen’s grandmother, who survived while her family perished. Remember Sylvia, who watched her little sister, Ida, die in the bunk beneath her.
For more photos from and information about the exhibition Sylvia: Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka please see the previous entry.
Photos by Viktor Koen
Transport ticket available from: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Germany License (CC-BY-SA)