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Madness 101; Holocaust Archives To Be Opened

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The numbers are staggering. Stored in a German archive so vast there are nearly sixteen miles of corridors, crammed onto floor to ceiling shelves, over fifty-million files giving mute testimony to the savagery and inhumanity of the Nazis during the Holocaust await their long overdue release to the public.

The archival evidence of Hitler’s mad Final Solution is irrefutable. Page after page of death, torture, inhumane medical experiments, and fear. I wish the records had been opened long ago, before so many survivors desperate for information concerning the fate of their loved ones had passed away.

It’s difficult for me to imagine what it must have been like during that time for the ‘undesirables.’ The Jews, the gays, the blacks, the gypsies, and anyone else Hitler decided had no right to live. It is far more difficult to imagine myself as one of the perpetrators, killing women and children indiscriminately, without remorse, and considering it my duty to do so. I doubt I will ever understand the collective madness of that time in history, and I am very glad that I don’t understand it. I’m glad that I can’t find anything within myself that would make my participation acceptable.

I suppose the only real explanation for participating in the slaughter of innocents was the fear of what would happen if they refused. I doubt the Nazis would have hesitated for a second to shoot down the conscientious objectors to the Holocaust. I believe there were very few ‘true believers’ in the Final Solution, but they were vicious and heartless in their application of madness on a grand scale. I hope I would have had the courage to refuse. To choose an honorable death over a life of shame and grief. I know I could not have participated and lived with it. I would have ended my own life and gone gladly into hell to escape hell. There are things worse than death.

The pages of the archives can tell us what happened to the victims. Who died, when, and where, and in many instances, how. But they can never reveal the true horror of what happened. Pages cannot cry out in fear, they can’t beg God to save them, and they can’t spend the last moments of their lives desperately trying to save their children. Paper can’t feel pain, it doesn’t bleed, and it doesn’t scream when it’s cast into a fire. The people murdered by the Nazis did.

We owe it to them to remember what happened, and we owe it to ourselves to live up to the promise of ‘never again.’ Our world has witnessed what happens when humanity is sacrificed at the altar of ideology and hate.

My next door neighbor, Mr. Marvin Cook, fought his way across Europe with Patton during World War II. He speaks hesitantly of those sad and lonely days, but he reserves his deepest emotions for his stories of the U.S. Army finding the death camps of the Nazis. It’s hard to listen to this old man talk about it, to see his pain and sorrow still keen after all these years. He told me of his platoon sergeant, a man he calls the “meanest sonofabitch in the U.S. Army,” a ferocious fighter and a hard man. Mr. Cook said he saw this man cry only one time, when they stumbled onto a concentration camp the Nazis had fled in a panic before their arrival. He told me of his platoon sergeant staring around the camp saying, “Oh My God! What are they doing here? What the hell are they doing here? Sweet Jesus, what are they doing.” Mr. Cook told me “a lot of tough boys cried like babies that day. Me too, hell, there was no way not to cry at what we saw.”

The opening of the archives will be painful for many Holocaust survivors and their families, but they have to know what happened. They have to discover the fates of their loved ones. They have a right to know, and very little time left.

As for the rest of us, I hope we will realize the importance of containing madness before it’s too late.

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  • Michael J. West

    There’s a great article, a pocket history of WW2, by a Chicago writer named Lee Sandlin. He talks about how seemingly every battle in the war was an exercise in horrors previously unseen by man, with each battle being worse than the last as new weapon technology was introduced. By 1945, anyone who’d been in the combat theaters longer than 6 months believed he’d been made immune to the insane Hell of war. Then they found the death camps, and the people who thought they were forever desensitized discovered they’d been wrong.

    I’m sure you know this, Donnie, but you’re a fantastic writer.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    Great article. I feel I need to throw in a couple of facts. Not all Germans signed up for the Wehrmacht when called. They refused. And they were shot on the spot. No trial, no nothing. Shot on the spot. So conscientious objectors were shot on sight. No need to wonder any longer.

    The original German plan was to send all the Jews in Europe to Eretz Yisrael. Shiping them out was a lot cheaper than killing them. The Zionist executive entered secret negotiations to save the non-religious Jews (they didn’t want religious Jews infecting the country they were building) and when the British effectively shut the doors to Mandate the Germans had one huge logostics problem on their hands.

    Nevertheless, it was a Gaza born Arab, Amin Husseini, the self styled “Grand Mufti of Palestine,” who fled to Germany, became one of Hitler’s running dogs, and lobbied incessantly for an execution of Jews to prevent them from overruning Eretz Yisrael.

    So Elli Friedmann, who later taught me Hebrew as a professor at the Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York as Livia Bitton, was condemned to a concentration camp by the uncle of Yassir Arafat.

    Once, and once only, did she mention having been born in Hungary. She never mentioned the concentration camps, but she always wore long sleeves and always dressed very attractively.

    One of the things I hope to see come from opening these archives are the real religious and ideological roots of the Nazi movement thoroughly explored.

  • Donnie Marler

    Michael: Thank you, I’ll be looking up Mr. Sandlin’s article. I’m fascinated by WWII history so I’m sure it will be interesting for me to read.
    As you said, and my old neighbor confirmed, the men of the U.S. Army thought they’d seen every horror imaginable until the finding of the camps. One of Mr. Cook’s most memorable remarks of that time was, “even Patton cried.” It should give one pause in considering how horrible the camps were, to realize even these battle hardened men were rocked to their cores by them.

  • Donnie Marler

    Interesting comments, thank you. You’ve given me more research to do!
    God Bless your professor, and all those who survived to live with such scarring memories.

  • Michael J. West

    Donnie, you can get the Sandlin article here. (The link opens a Word doc.)

    Mr. Cook sounds like a helluva soldier, too. Third Army?

  • Baronius

    Donnie, you find nothing in yourself that would have gone along with it? No misplaced anger, no greed, no cowardice, no laziness? Do you have perfect compassion for everyone? I don’t trust myself that much. Believe me, I’d rather hear people saying ‘never again’ than the alternative, but I don’t trust them.

  • Donnie Marler

    Michael, thank you for the link. I’ll be reading it soon.
    Yes, Mr. Cook was 3rd Army.

  • Donnie Marler

    Baronius, I said I hoped I would have the courage to refuse. We all have the capacity for cruelty beyond imagination if we don’t fear reprisal. I do know myself enough to know I could not participate and live with it.
    Your point is well taken though.