Shattered: Essay # 1, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand the World

Self finds that so many of the books she’s read this year have a bearing. For instance, the book she started the year with: My Heart, a translation from the Bosnian by Semezdin Mehmehdinovic. The author is one of those displaced immigrants who cannot feel at home, not here in America, even though he has raised a son who is so very American in his nonchalance.

And All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, by Rebecca Donner, about Donner’s great great-aunt Mildred Harnack, who was part of a plot against Hitler and was executed in 1942.

Essay # 1 in her current read, Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World, is about Fritz Haber, the brilliant Jewish chemist who directed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry and is credited with the invention of Zyklon.

Labatut:

  • Haber had converted to Christianity at twenty-five years old. He identified so closely with his country and its customs that his sons knew nothing of their ancestry until he told them they would have to flee Germany. Haber escaped after them and sought asylum in England, but his British colleagues scorned him, aware of his instrumental role in chemical warfare. He had to leave the island not after arriving. Thenceforth, he would travel from country to country in the hope of reaching Palestine, his chest gripped with pain, his arteries incapable of delivering sufficient blood to his heart. He died in Basle in 1934, clutching the canister of nitroglycerine he needed to dilate his coronary vessels, not knowing that, years later, the Nazis would use in their gas chambers the pesticide he had helped create to murder his half-sister, his brother-in-law, his nephews and countless other Jews who died hunkered down, muscles cramping, skin covered with red and green spots, bleeding from their ears, spitting foam from their mouths, the young ones crushing the children and the elderly as they attempted to scale the heap of naked bodies and breathe a few more minutes, a few more seconds, because Zyklon B tended to pool on the floor after being dropped through hatches in the roof.

Share Your Desktop – March 2022

For her March 2022 Desktop (The host of the Share Your Desktop challenge is Clare’s Cosmos), self is having a difficult time choosing between these three:

The Burning of the Books: 10 May 1933

Methodical, even in their torching, the Germans make “a bed of sand. On this bed they lay logs, criss-crossing them, stacking them with with care . . . The logs form a pyre twelve feet square and five feet high.”

This fantastic pyre is accompanied by: 1) of course torches; 2) a mad minister: Goebbels, practically chortling with glee as he presides over the bonfire of books.

Identical book burnings are staged “in thirty-four universities” across Germany.

There are a few protest posters (Trigger Warning: Language)

EVERY DECENT HUMAN BEING IS ASHAMED TO SAY THAT THIS IS THE GERMAN WAY.

ASSHOLES DO NOT BELONG IN THE UNIVERSITY, THEY BELONG IN THE SHITHOUSE.

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 100

The cousin of Arvin Harnack is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the most outspoken critics of Hitler’s campaign against “inferior races.” A Lutheran pastor, he even goes to America to try and arouse support for German Jews. He is swept up, like many other members of his family. Like his cousin Arvin and Arvin’s wife Mildred. Dietrich spends most of the war years in Dachau. He is hanged in April 1945, a month before the German surrender.

Today, self decided to find out if there were any memorials in Germany honoring Mildred Harnack. She found this: the German Resistance Memorial Center. Mildred Harnack is given a brief bio. The last sentence: “Mildred Harnack was murdered on February 16, 1943 . . . “ That is impressive wording.

Stay tuned.

My Love to Director Luke Holland

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. There were signs all over downtown reminding everyone to wear a mask, the marquee on Fox Theater announced that Malala Yousef was coming to speak in October.

I did not have high expectations for Final Account. I’ve seen every Holocaust movie of the last three decades, including Quentin Tarantino’s. I didn’t read any reviews; I only wanted to get some respite from the glare.

Two things: there were other people in the audience. Perhaps eight other people? I assumed they were seniors. They usually are, at the movies I see. Towards the end, someone to my right clapped. It was after the interview with the man who had been one of 23 SS at the Wannsee Conference (1942) when The Final Solution was decided on. I looked to the right, saw bare feet up on the seat in front (which is a very American thing to do, it’s almost summer hey) and assumed the feet belonged to a young person. Much to my surprise, when the lights went up, it was a tall woman whose grey hair was cut very short, like a boy’s. She was wearing khaki shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops. She walked quickly out of the theater after the movie ended, faster than I’ve seen any person, young or old, move.

The film was a series of interviews with the last surviving members of the SS (identifiable by a small mark, a tattoo), and with others who worked for the Nazis, male and female. It started with those who were inducted into Hitler Youth in the early 1930s, moved all the way up through Kristallnacht (1938) and into the Allied Victory.

The day before the Americans arrived at one of the camps, the guards started stuffing people into the crematoriums, as many as they could. And then they slunk away. One woman told how she successfully hid her fiancee, a prison guard, for nine months. Her companions were surprised. I guess they’d never heard her tell this story? They also sounded a bit incredulous.

(I started the movie eating popcorn, out of habit. Can you imagine?)

The interview with Hans Werk, a member of the Waffen S.S., one of those who sat around a table in Wannsee and discussed The Final Solution, was a true punch to the gut. He was engaging in some sort of open discussion with students seated around a table. Get this: the student’s faces were blurred out, to conceal their identities, when you would think it would be the other way around. After all, what would students have to hide?

One wore a T-shirt that said “La Familia”??? They were all male, and all white. But it was Werk who stared directly into the camera and said, “I belonged to a murderous organization.” At which the students sitting around objected and said, “Must we live with this shame all our lives?” And then I understood why the students’ faces were blurred. They criticized Werk for his “lack of honour.” (!!!???)

Two of the interviews were with ex-SS who were still proud of their membership in this “elite” organization (and why was I not surprised that those two men seemed to have the nicest living rooms). The last interview, however, was in a very humble room, and I thought: “This was why this was selected to be the last interview. He’s going to go all-out about his shame.”

But no! He was with Hitler to the end! He was PROUD of Hitler! I was soooo surprised.

Oh bravo, Luke Holland.

One interviewee said they were “partially complicit.” But at what point does complicity start shading into guilt?

Most were ashamed and most said they “knew nothing.” That was their way of covering up their shame, but it leaked out in their eyes.

What. A. Movie. Five stars.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Creepy 3: Sutro Tower, San Francisco; Holocaust Memorial, Miami, Florida

Still working off the WordPress Photo Challenge this week: CREEPY.

  • “Grab a shot of something you find disturbing.”

First, welcome to creepy San Francisco. It’s little wonder the city served as the setting for the Donald Sutherland movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The pods arrive from outer space and take root in Golden Gate Park.

Sutro Tower, San Francisco: Waiting for The Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Sutro Tower, San Francisco: Waiting for The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Snapped from the lawn in front of the Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park.

Next, in Miami’s South Beach, the most gut-wrenching Read the rest of this entry »

Why Self Loves Warlocks and Werewolves and What Not: CLOCKWORK PRINCE, Chapter 11 (“Wild Unrest”)

First of all, self didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.

Second, writing is hard work. VERY VERY hard work.

Third, just see how you’d like reading 600 pages of The Third Reich of War (The chapter self is on describes how rich Hermann Goring was: he owned 10 villas, all of which were crammed with expensive artwork, and all of which were subsidized at German taxpayers’ expense. Just a few pages before, self read how a Jewish nurse at Auschwitz accompanied her son voluntarily to the gas chamber, during one of the last waves of gassings at the camp: October 1944)

So self hardly needs to explain why she goes for a little fantasy now and then. (How very forward-thinking of her to bring along her copies of Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess to the UK! She usually isn’t that pro-active!)

Anyhoo, Clockwork Prince, which most readers seem to think is “Jem’s book.” NOT!

While our boy Will Herondale is dreadfully discomposed, or disoriented, or whatevers, by the events therein, he is most decidedly NOT out of the picture entirely!

From the Oxford Dictionary of English in Cottage # 2 at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre

From the Oxford Dictionary of English in Cottage # 2 at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre

In a side-story, a Downworlder named Ragnor Fell is sniffing around Yorkshire to dig up information for the Clave on what exactly the Herondale family is doing in Ravenscar Manor, which is owned by the Magister (aka Mortmain aka Evil Person Who Has Been Trying to Abduct Tessa Gray Since FOREVER). Ragnor reports his findings to Charlotte in a very circumlocutious (but charming) letter which reads, in part, thus:

Ravenscar itself is near a small village. I set myself up at the local inn, the Black Swan, and posed as a gentleman interested in buying property in the area. The locals have been most forthcoming with information, and when they were not, a persuasion spell or two helped them to see the matter from my point of view.

It seems the Herondales mix very little with local society.

It’s now raining! OMG, it was hot as all get-out all day. Thank you for the rain!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Goebbels’ Speech at the Berlin Sports Palace: 18 February 1943

And self is back to reading The Third Reich at War!

At first glance, the below text might seem like something out of a play. Mebbe Tamburlaine the Great, or Richard II.

Oh no, on second thought, the writing is just too bad. It’s just one long, hysterical shriek of racial hatred. It may be considered an example of exhortation, a rhetorical device. Delivered with a very blunt instrument.

Self will reproduce it here, minus editorial comment:

  • Behind the onrushing Soviet divisions we can already see the Jewish liquidation squads, which loom behind terror, the spectre of millions going hungry and total anarchy in Europe. Here international Jewry is once more proving itself to be the devilish element of decomposition . . .  We have never been afraid of Jewry and we are less afraid today than ever! The aim of Bolshevism is the world revolution of the Jews . . .  Germany at least does not intend to quail before this Jewish threat; rather, to meet it with the timely, if necessary total and most radical exclusion of Jewry!

— p. 280, The Third Reich at War, Part 3 (“The Final Solution”)

Victor Klemperer, Dresden, 1942

On 14 February 1942, Klemperer, aged 60 and in less than perfect health, was ordered to report for work clearing snow off the streets. He was married to a non-Jew; his wife was called a “Jew’s whore.”

They ransacked his house, taking away everything of value. Except for — the diaries.

“Desperately worried that the Gestapo would find his diaries (one is murdered for lessser misdemeanors), Klemperer started to get his wife to take them” to a “non-Jewish friend” for safekeeping.

“But,” he wrote, “I shall go on writing . . . This is my heroism. I intend to bear witness, precise witness!”

— from The Third Reich at War, Part 3 (“The Final Solution”), p. 252

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Felix Landau’s Diary: Cracow, 1941

Alternating between Clockwork Prince and The Third Reich at War, be forewarned.

Events in Cracow from the diary of Felix Landau, part of the SS’s Task Force C:

Landau watched Jews forced to dig their own graves, mused in his diary:  “What on earth is running through their minds during those moments? I think that each of them harbours a small hope that somehow he won’t be shot. The death candidates are organized into three shifts as there are not many shovels. Strange, I am completely unmoved. No pity, nothing.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Germany, 1939 -1940, In Numbers

From The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans:

Only about 15,000 Jews found “refuge in a neutral country in the course of 1940.”

In 1939, 1000 “got to Brazil with the help of visas arranged by the Vatican.”

In 1939 – 1941, Chiune Sugihara, “a Japanese consul stationed variously in Lithuania, Prague, and Konigsberg . . .  whose main function was supposed to be observing military matters, began on his own initiative to issue transit visas to Japan to any Jew who approached him, even though they had no permission to enter the country.” He issued documents to 10,000 Jews (10x as many as the Jews of Schindler’s list! And self had never heard of him until a few minutes ago)

Shanghai permitted immigration until December 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In the summer of 1941, “over 25,000 Jewish refugees from a variety of European countries, including Germany,” managed to get there.

By 1941, the Jews remaining in Germany were “overwhelmingly concentrated in Berlin.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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