The human body and the holocaust

13 Sep

I have a feeling this will be another strange post. You see, I’ve just spent the night watching more foreign films dealing with beautiful people fighting, loving, and dying amid one of the darkest periods in human history; and it’s 3am, I’m exhausted.

Allow me to let you in on something a little personal: I often spend time thinking about the human body. No, not in the way you’re thinking a normal 20 something guy would think of human bodies, particularly female bodies, though that is a part of it. Most of the time it’s more of a detached, clinical observation; though to be honest it’s a mix of both, sensual and clinical. The whole thing is somewhat mystical to me, the way you might lie in bed examining the body of a lover; slowly gliding your fingers over their skin, taking note of the texture, the rise and falls of their curves, the soft malleability of their flesh, or the strength and elegance of their collarbone.

The paradox is intriguing to me. While the human body can be a graceful work of art, almost ethereal, at the same time it can be gritty and dirty; unkempt hair, sweat, grime, blood. Without proper grooming and hygiene, we can be a real mess. But the dualities don’t end at aesthetics. While the human body can be soft and delicate, we are able to build powerful machines and structures out of steel. Though we lack thick protective skin, or claws for self defense, we make up for it with tools and ingenuity. To highlight this contrast, imagine people going about their jobs, yet doing so in the nude. (And please leave the crass sexualization for the children, that’s not what I’m going for here) In the middle of a hard, sterile, mechanical environment we have these soft and delicate bodies that created it. It’s hard to try and explain this through words. What I’m trying to express is a thought that is very sensory in nature. Trying to translate how a thought feels, tastes, sounds, and looks like is hard to translate into text, so lets move on.

Maybe it’s the humanist in me, or an extension of that mystical feeling I feel about the human body, but we really are fascinating creatures. Yes, a machine can do something a million times with laser precision, but humans are just so versatile. While we divide up into various social and economic classes, and vary in degrees of intelligence, we all have basically the same potential. For example, the janitor who cleans a building, their job does not make them any less of a human than the CEO of the company they work for. If you took that janitor and trained them intensively, they would be able to do the things the CEO does, it’s just a matter of education and training. (Now obviously janitors don’t become CEOs, but that’s a symptom of society and some starting off in more advantageous positions than others, not because there is an inherent difference between people)

So where does the holocaust come into all of this? Well since I look at the human body as works of art, and value the potential of every human being, the holocaust is something that deeply interests and disturbs me. The wholesale, systematic slaughter of millions of people… It’s just beyond me. I may really hate somebody, but I can’t escape the fact that they are human. I still see them the way the curious lover does. Thus it’s beyond me how you could hurt something like that, let alone pack millions into freight cars and slaughter them.

Seriously, what’s going through this soldier’s mind? How can he not see that the mother and her daughter that is is about to murder are people? It just baffles me. People have been committing atrocities like this for millenniums, it still goes on today, though not as grand and mechanized as in the 1940’s.  How can we live with ourselves? I think most people just ignore it or put it out of their minds. I’m not sure we are able to fully comprehend the horror of what we do to one another. I’ve heard stories about soldiers who liberated the death camps, how many of them could never sleep well for the rest of their lives, how some could never forget the stench of the mountains of dead. I think to fully comprehend the horror would destroy you. My thesis advisor in college was a holocaust historian for a while. He had to stop because it was destroying his humanity just talking about it. He said he went numb and the numbers and atrocities blurred together, that if he hadn’t changed subjects he would have committed suicide.

How are we capable of such acts? How can we do such a thing to something a beautiful and amazing as a human being? I guess it’s also part of our duality;  we have the capacity for great goodness, and the capacity for unspeakable evil.

3 Responses to “The human body and the holocaust”

  1. teo September 16, 2010 at 7:09 am #

    I think that there is no way you don’t know about these experiment, but if so, take a look at the Milgram Experiment, the Stanford Prison Experiment, The Third Wave…

    The key to horrors like this is simple – dehumanization and submission to authorities. Try to stay away from stuff like that 😉

  2. faustusnotes September 16, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    have you read Primo Levi? He has a lot to say on the topic…

  3. godlesspaladin September 16, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Nope, I haven’t, just googled him, he looks really interesting. Anything in particular you’d recommend?

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