Barack Obama: Three Yellow Roses On a Grey Day (Satis Shroff)
It was a grey, cold day and a frosty wind blew at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar. The 44th US Prisident Barack Obama, Elie Wiesel, Bertrand Herz, Angela Merkel and their selected entourage went through the gate which carried the words: Jedem das Seine.
In this concentration camp alone 56,000 people were killed by the Nazis, not to speak of Auschwitz, Amersfoort, Warsaw and elsewhere. It was at 3:15 on April 11, 2009 that Obama’s great-uncle Charlie Payne (now 84) helped to liberate the Jewish and other prisoners. Charlie was a young soldier then with the US 89th Infantary Division, and recalled often the horror of seeing corpses piled up. He was horrified by the lengths to which men go to mistreat other men.
Has the world learned anything out of it?
Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel, 80, who was one of more than 900 children liberated from Buchenwald in April 1945, has his doubts.
President Obama rightly called the visit to Buchenwald as ‘the ultimate rebuke’ to Holocaust deniers. Iran’s present president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has gone on record as having repeatedly questioned the holocaust, and there are an increasing numer of people in Europe who are rightists, and who give their votes to such nationalistic parties. This is also true in the case of the Flemish national separists, Italian neo-faschists, Austria’s far right with headquarters in Kernten, and Netherland’s anti-EU populist Geert Wilders and, of course, in Germany and Switzerland.
After the visitors had laid three yellow roses for the dead, President Obama referred to the Nazi camps and said: ‘These sites have not lost their horror with the passage of time. More than half a century later, our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished.’
The politically correct attitude towards Israel of the German government under Merkel has grown out of the ashes of the holocaust. In the past, around the thirties, it was easier to be silent for the majority of the Germans, when their Jewish neighbours were being insulted, beaten, humiliated, discriminated by Hitler’s brown shirts, and later accompanied by force to the concentrations camps and eventually to the gas-chambers. Zykon B was a dreaded name in those days.
It was only after the World War II, when it became public, that many Germans realised what an infamy and act of criminality and inhumanity its armed forces and civil servants had meted out to its Jewish citizens, gypsies (Roma and Sinti), POWS from other conquered countries and their very own disabled persons, whose right to exist and live as they pleased was challenged by self-styled members of the Aryan race, who wanted to eliminate, what they called ‘worthless lives.’ Hitler wanted to create a new Aryan race with blondes and blue-eyed Germans and a start was made at Schönborn, where young virile males and females were allowed to mate for the Fatherland. Many of the children from these anonymous intercourses still live today, and would like to know who their parents were, for the offsprings were given to German families or grew up in Scandinavian countries.
We have but to read Bertold Brecht’s book ‘Furcht und Elend im Dritten Reich’ to understand that angst was the order of the day, when even fathers had to fear their own sons because the latter were active members of Hitler’s youth and boy-scout organisations. They had to show allegiance to their Führer and no one else. It was in this atmosphere, charged with fear of denunciation, that the people lived their normal lives in wartime Germany.
In the post-war period it wasn’t any better for the Germans who lived in the German Democratic Republic under Erik Honneker, where kilometres of barbed-wire, Alsatian dogs, manned by the Volks police and deadly automatic guns that fired at the touch of a hidden wire, and where the Big Brother Stasi (secret state security) was always watching its citizens. You couldn’t trust anybody in those days.
I remember when I was a medical student I met a blonde girl in the Anatomy class and she looked around furtively said in a whisper: ‘I’m from the DDR, but please don’t tell anyone about it.’ She’d fled to the west. She was safe here but her fear accompanied her like a shadow. I reassured her and we are still good friends and laugh about those times.
Even Günter Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, has a tough time fighting with himself regarding his past, and he mentions it in his onion-experience book, the English version of which hit the bookstands last year. The Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie are replete with historical human tragedies of people who wanted to flee from a totalitarian state. Families were separated and the expression ‘Ossie and Wessie’ was normal for a long time, even after the Berlin Wall fell on November 11,1989. Two nations, two governments, two different ideologies but the same people. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most emotional and historical greatest events in this world, not only for us Germans, but also for the former East Bloc countries. In this post-Perestroika period, the new and growing memberships in the European Union and Nato are proof enough of the desire, yes the craving, to be a part of Europe and the Upper Hemisphere, for the East Bloc countries were economically developing countries, made kaput by the communist and socialist apparatus.
Despite the negative headlines and banners in the media, even the former East German cities are mobilising themselves against the Neonazis, and others who still believe in the yesteryears of so-called Aryan culture and power. Wolfgang Tiefen, SPD, Minister of Transport in
Germany was right when he said: ‘It isn’t enough if one thinks in silence. In many cities there are attempts by rightists to show their presence. To counteract this move, one has to go to the streets. Dresden has shown us how to treat the Neos.’ It must be mentioned that at the autobahn resting place Teufelstuhl (Devil’s Chair), near Jena, Neonazis brutally beat up the people who’d taken part in the big democratic demonstration, and some of them had serious injuries.
According to Obama his great-uncle Payne had had a ‘very difficult time readjusting to civilian life’ after what he saw at the camp.
The survivors of the holocaust and their children, and their children’s children still suffer from the traumatic experience in the concentration camps, and have fear of death and loss. In a clinical study carried out in 1968 in Holland with 800 Jewish patients, who’d survived the holocaust, had what is known as the KZ-syndrome, which is a combination of problems. The patients had chronic angst (fear), cognition and memory disturbances, heavy chronic depression, changes in personality and identity, emotional regression, psychosomatic problems like phobia, hallucination and showed signs of agitation. They also suffered from psychosis, restlessness, sleep disturbances, nervosity, diffuse fear of new persecution, permanent exhaustion and loss of vitality due to weight loss caused by persecution.
It is interesting to note that similar symptoms were to be seen in the case of survivors of Hiroshima, POWs and among the persecuted Afro-American and native Indian tribesmen of the USA. A study about the syndromes of Guantanamo survivors on the part of NANDA is pending.
Whereas a lot of the KZ survivors had the syndrome, there were those who were spared such traumatic experiences and syndromes in a new, safe country like the USA, Holland, Canada and Israel, even though they had a latent phase in old age, because the Jewish migrants have a close social network in which rituals and symbols play a big part. Nevertheless, all holocaust survivors have a lot of things in common: the experience of helplessness, terror, deprivation, loss of social groups (friends, family, relatives) and profession. Added to this plethora of problems is the survivor-guilt. When you’ve underdone such hardships and experiences you tend to ask yourself: Why did I survive and not the others?. You have painful pictures of death and the unfinished process of mourning for your near and dear ones who’d died in the concentration camps or were shot by a firing squad.
When a Jewish survivor of the holocaust gets a cancer tumour, it brings up memories of the holocaust because of the loss of hair due to the intake of cyclostatica during treatment, thus baldness gives you the feeling of being imprisoned again in an institute. The fear of death creeps up slowly and the hospital clothing remind you of the KZ prisoner’s striped dress. The loss of hair imparts a feeling of loss of identity. So the diagnosis cancer develops further in your mind to become a personal holocaust.
The question is: have we Germans learned from the lessons of the past? One thing we should have learned after having survived the Third Reich and World War II is never to be silent when rights of humans are being trampled, and look the other way. As long there’s democracy, there’s also the right to view one’s personal opinions in matters pertaining to politics, culture and religion. In diesem Sinne: Vive la difference!
In Luzern you can see a Pandora’s Box, the contents of which was long in the hands of a Swiss Red Cross nurse named Elsbeth Kasser, who’d worked in the concentration camp Gurs, located in Southern France. It’s a box full of 150 pictures, works of art by interned Jewish artists. The photographs and KZ artistic drawings, sketches are being exhibited at Luzern’s Historical Museum. The title is appropriate: Hinschauen—nicht wegschauen, which means, Look at it, don’t look away.
The KZ prisoners, who were transported to the Vernichtungslager by the Nazis, had pleaded to the nurse Elsbeth Kasser: ‘Swiss Sister, tell about it in your country, tell what happened here to the world.’ 1943 was long ago, but it was in 1989 that she showed the works to others. Frau Kasser died in 1992. She’d brought a little joy and support in Gurs, and was ashamed of what the Nazis had done to the people she’d begun to like: transported to the camps of elimination, never to return and see the light of the day, never to breathe like you and me, never to live with their families and friends. Uprooted brutally, undergoing suffering, maltreatment, experiencing cold, hunger, deprivation and dying miserable deaths in concentration camps, eradicated like rodents. Precious human souls, who’d lived in Barrack No. C/6.
About the Author:
Satis Shroff is a prolific writer and teaches Creative Writing at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. http://www.zfs.uni-freiburg.de/zfs/dozent/lehrbeauftragte4/index_html/#shroff. He is a lecturer, poet and writer and the published author of three books: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelogue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff).
Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. He is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer.