Friday, May 21, 2010

The man in the photograph

It's time I wrote a new blog: the last one is dated August 2009, whenever that was. This evening, I chaired a panel at an event held by the Anne Frank Trust (the UK partner of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam). This evening's discussion was part of a month-long festival being held by the Trust in Woodhorn Museum, near Ashington in Northumberland. The main focus of the festival is an exhibition (one of several) devoted to Anne Frank, her family, their fate, and the events taking place in the world around them. Of her family, only one person survived, her father. She and her sister died in Bergen-Belsen, not that long before the end of the war.

During the discussion, people spoke of ways in which bigotry and hatred could be eliminated, and many worthy things were said about education and asylum seekers and terrorism. But before joining the panel, I had gone round the exhibition again, and two images out of hundreds had stayed in my mind this time. One, which many of you will have seen, shows a man standing half-way in a pit while a bunch of German soldiers idle and chat. One soldier stands next to the man, holding a pistol pointed at his head, and we know that once the picture has been taken, he will shoot his prisoner and let his body tumble into the pit on top of others, no doubt to be followed by many more. It is a disturbing photograph, not least because the prisoner – a Jewish man, we presume – stands awaiting death without cringing, with what little dignity is left to him. There is no-one to bid him farewell, no-one to whisper a prayer in his ear, only the soldiers, who have lost their humanity. Perhaps some of those soldiers are alive today, old men, near enough to death themselves. Are they riddled with guilt? Will there be someone to say comforting words to them and hold their hands on their deathbeds? Who knows? I just know that I wouldn't want to be one of them.

Another photograph in the exhibition is less well known. It shows a Jewish man with a beard. Behind him a German soldier is laughing. Unseen except for his hand, another soldier holds a long razor against the man's neck. Did he cut his throat with it? Or did he let him walk away, secure in the knowledge that, sooner or later, all Jews would die, that he would not even have to stain his uniform with Jewish blood because neater, more humane ways of killing had been introduced? Who knows?

Looking at those two photographs, I come away, like any normal person, with mixed feelings of pity and rage. And I come back to the discussions we had tonight and the assumption that all can be put right so long as we adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All well and good, but I know that being kind to these thugs, seeking to enlist their help in educating their fellow Nazis, or (had it been written then) reading to them slowly from the Universal Declaration would end in raucous laughter and, quite probably, a bullet in my brain. The raw truth is that the only thing that would stop those killers as they go about their duty would be exactly that: a bullet in each of their heads. Against all my normal qualms about killing, I set the fact that, behind the man with the pistol, there is a long line of men, women, and children, each of whom will be made to stand in that pit, and that he means to kill them. And after him, another man with another pistol will down another hundred or thousand until the pit is full and the bodies are buried from sight. Like most of you, I would happily fire the gun.

Chaim Potok once said 'There are no more gentle Jews'. Of, course, there are, millions of them. But what he meant is clear. The next time a thug with a pistol sets out to snuff out Jewish lives, he must reckon with Jews who will not just stand waiting for the bullet, but who know how to use guns themselves. And this, more than anything, is the logic behind Israel. Every time the IDF takes on Hamas or Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad, it makes a statement, that Israel was created as a safe haven for Jews.

Israel is not a nation founded on brute force, but it is a nation made up of individuals who, should they see others at the mercy of brutes and sadists will step up and bat. And every time someone sheds a tear for a Hamas gunman cut down or a suicide bomber put out of action or a missile-firing child-killer shot before he can send his missile aloft, I think to myself that they would not have shed a tear for that man teetering in the pit or that other trying to stop screaming as the razor caresses his neck.


calgacus said...

And what about the unarmed Palestinian children shot in the head for throwing a stone at an Israeli guard post, or demonstrating peacefully against Israeli attacks on Gaza, or just shot for no apparent reason by Israeli snipers in their own homes or on their way home from school? Would you shed a tear for them maybe? Would you shed a tear for the Israeli soldiers who killed them?

There are two sides to this conflict and the Israeli forces in it are most definitely not comparable to the victims of the Holocaust, nor are all their enemies Nazis.

Kate said...

Welcome back Denis. Truly thought you had given up! So glad that is not the case. Some further thoughts on 'peace' storm-troopers would be welcome? I turned tonight to the blog to read your letter (last year) to the Free Gaza crowd.

I am yet again, overwhelmed by uninformed media allegations and raw hatred against Israel and by extension (though none would admit it) Jewish people. So politically correct are the mashed brains of the multicultural liberals that they insist on the infantilisation of a religious, political ideology (Islam) which few appear able to fully comprehend.

This piece is so relevant albeit published before the world got going again on a hatefest. What has happened to civilised investigative research and historical perspective. So many have forgotten so easily or perhaps never knew the historical truths taught (Thank God) to our generation in the grammar schools of Northern Ireland!

What a loss those same institutions to British society and now under severe threat from the Shinner 'education' minister in the Province.

Extraordinary ignorance and bias abounds, even in the Irish Republic's paper of record - Irish Times. Why oh why is Israel so inept in public relations. Can it be they have accepted they will be forever the scapegoat so just don't bother?

Desperate times. Difficult to keep the 'defence' active when the hysteria and lies come from all quarters.