Jan/Feb 2011 Travel

Death Camp Tours

by Piers Michael Smith

Our train was nearly empty. So was the landscape. Stooks, each a frail shivering X, one or two houses with tomato-strewn gardens, hillsides like arboretums run wild, a river proceeding in slow crashes through woods. At one point, the river flattened out and lost its banks, becoming a field of wet stones; this scene was overlooked by an abandoned Grimm's fairy-tale cottage, onto which sunlight fell in clean shafts like helicopter search-lights. We entered a region of raggle-taggle hedges and broken fences. Just below, in a paddock of mucky yellow plants, I saw a small deer, then another one, or the ripple of stems it left behind.

The train had to skirt the Tatras, and the shade and blowing lacy-curtain mists briefly chilled us. A long wait at the frontier station of Plavec-Muszyna beside rows of freight cars and rusty track. A woman in a dark blue uniform came and giggled over our passports. Then the train appeared to reverse indefinitely. "Are we going back into Slovakia?" But the view turned into reassuring tilled fields and gabled houses, washing somersaulting in the breeze like headless gymnasts. We passed a low-lying industrial town with its own smog-line (stretched out to one side like a wind-sock), a new motorway whose traffic easily outpaced us, young head-tossing poplars. Krakow announced itself with familiar baroque graffiti—3D loops in red with black outlines, English obscenities. We walked up a concrete slope passed a man asleep with his trousers around his knees, the folds of his smooth waxy buttocks.

When I first saw it, on a list of recommendations posted by HotelsPoland.com, I was tickled by this name "Atrium." It looked ineptly chosen or wackily metonymic. (Who would name their child after a body-part?) Later, when I looked it up, I found that the laugh was on me. An atrium is an open space. It signifies a court or courtyard. The original Latin refers to the central hall of a Roman house. As hall, court or court-yard, then, it could connote meeting, or the area in which meeting takes place—civil, polite, a moment of fearful reconnoiter before the tribalism and intimacy of the handshake, the kiss. The term can also designate the portico in front of churches. As such, it names a threshold, an interstitial movement (timeless, empty, raincoat-musty) before the tonic of worship or the neck-cricking labor of saying "wow."

Illuminated green and bronze at night like an Art Deco casino, the hotel aimed to cash in on the region's booming tourist trade. There wasn't much of a lobby, just a couch, racks of brochures, a cramped desk, two buzzing PCs, and a single steely-eyed concierge who moved his guests around like chips, pressing guides and itineraries onto them, offering direct transport to "the most attractive destinations in southern Poland." These included the palace at Lancut, the medieval town of Wroclaw, and the salt-mine at Wieliczka, where, 100 meters underground, a ramp had been constructed to enable the then local celebrity, Karol Joseph Wojtyla, his Popemobile and waving arm, to glide down to a cathedral carved out of salt-crystals. The transport service could also take guests to the State Museum, 60 clicks away at Auschwitz-Birkenhau.

Mostly the hotel, like the city, was looking for immediate returns. Our fellow guests were groups of elderly Europeans (Italian, Spanish, French). There were some middle-aged couples, but no young people. Like Las Vegas, prototype and presiding genius of the modern Grand Tour (the New World now modeling for the Old), Krakow was not a young person's holiday destination. The city attracted people with leisurely needs and longer memories. These, by a calculated if incalculably discreet set of nudges (the racks of brochures, the sharp-suited elbow-taking concierge), were being steered towards the Old Town's collection of Dark Age, Renaissance and Austro-Hungarian Imperial memorabilia. —As if these had just as much claim on our attention spans, if not more so, as any museum at Auschwitz-Birkenhau, or, inversely, as if the latter could now be merged in the touring-mind with other quirks of our serio-comic history of the world in ten and a half chapters.

The Atrium's brochure-map showed the hotel (arrowed in red) just a few blocks down from Grand Square, site of the14th century Cloth Hall (billed as "the world's oldest shopping mall") and the Basilica of the Virgin Mary. I didn't know this at the time, but the latter contains a 15th century 48-foot high altarpiece depicting the Virgin's "quietus" amidst melancholy admiring apostles. I also didn't know that from the Basilica's turrets, a trumpet sounds every hour, always ending in strangled mid-note ("Ooo—urghh!"), in surreal commemoration of an 1100 year-old flukish Tartar arrow. Although there were no directions, the map encouraged guests to walk the "Royal Road" to the square and down the main drag, Grodzka, to Wawel Castle, where centuries of Polish kings lay massively entombed. From thence, they might skip across the tram-lines into the old Jewish Quarter in the district of Kazimierz (where, presumably, one could find wizened "Oy-vey!" exclaiming shopkeepers and male chorus-lines in elflocks, clogs, and black stockings). They might also walk beside what remained of the Old Town's walls, posing with some handy picturesque local before such postcard settings as the Barbikan, Florian Gate, and the Slowacki Theatre. Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine could be viewed at the Czartoryskich Museum. For the high cultural renegade—or truly tourism-challenged—there were also 300 year-old mummies in a crypt and a stuffed ice-age rhinoceros exhibited beside its own tongue and windpipe. A thumbnail picture column to the right of the map anticipated the bare eye's gasp and satisfaction.

Krakow, then, was "historic"—a site, a shrine, a monument, an immovable feast— representing itself in its hotel brochures, street signs and caffeine-fuelled breakfast chatter as a blast from the past, a UNESCO-World-Heritage, newly-brought-out-of-Cold War-mothballs, tarted up-with-Hot Peace-pennants, blinged, naughty badged, fake tattooed, S&M braceleted and dog-collared, strolling players-in-national-dressed, café-cultured and Euro-currencied blast. Yet if the Grand Square looked like any other European tourist town-centre—that of Bruges, say, or Florence or Prague—with the same clop of horse-drawn carriages (pork-pie hatted and whip-wielding coachmen and straight-ahead-staring, curiously stricken passengers), flower stalls, animated clocks, soft-spoken men with cameras ("photo, my friend?"), and shops selling leather wallets and glassware, at the same time an atmosphere of solemnity and what I can only call shyness seemed to muffle even the clatter of cutlery in the open-air restaurants. The waitresses seemed afraid to take down orders.

Some places have an atmosphere, an aura, which is more vague and yet more pressing than an association, which cannot be seen or photographed, and yet which hangs over the name, long before (and long after) the actual physical world, the phenomenal outrage, impresses itself on the senses. Associations are easier to identify, file and forget about, because they are personal and temporary, prone to ageing and refurbishment. They don't testify to anything much outside of our own vigilant self-inspection. This is why they're a little errant and anarchic. For me, the word "Krakow" had nothing to do with Tartar arrows or kingly tombs. It came with cold and jagged edges, stiff blue fingers, gritty black bread, potatoes hard as stones, an exotic balding boy called Budzik whom I went to school with, the stink of crushed pears, bloody sausages, Joseph Conrad and (for some reason, wholly unclear to me) Flavius Mithridates, the awful seriousness of biography, romantic agony. An aura cannot be smelt or objectified in that way. It does not work on the imagination, nor does it allegorize the past. It is out there—outside the head, that is, and its endless ramifying evasions—hidden from sight yet palpable, and always growing, but incredibly slowly, accumulating through time like a stalactite. No amount of digital technology, gloss or depth of field can snap that away.

August 28th. We followed a sort of after-the-match crowd up Stawkowska, through a bottle-neck of trees, cyclists and taxis, coming across weirdly staggering men, seemingly unconnected, but identical in their sweetish vinegary odors and dodgem-car collisions. It was as if some extremist religio-political group had just released a disabling gas into the atmosphere. I saw one man in a filthy parka petrify, foot suspended over a kerb, fuddled eyes searching, as kids on bikes came swish-swooping through the trees. Another man latched on to us, crossing the street when we did ("don't look at him, don't make eye-contact"), perhaps using us as markers, buoys in the tossing sea of his recklessly pursued faith. Then, just ahead, two nuns, in freshly laundered habits and veils (that singed damp smell), linked arms and burst into peels of laughter. "It's OK. Drunks and nuns. This is a Catholic country."

On the square, an old woman in stylish peasant rags made only token passes with her roses and blue-seamed palm. A rambling speech, her eyes already drifting elsewhere. All along Grodzka—like one of Giorgio de Chirico's experiments in perspective—silver-painted street performers were posed in attitudes of unrelenting monstration, eyelid paint peeling over an eye, a wasp perched on an ice-blue chin, an ankle with a birthmark showing through its icing-sugar glaze. A brass band in funny hats and red neckerchiefs was making trial pee-parps under an arch. A bored girl gave out flyers, not even looking round, hand held out as though testing for rain. An Aragorn or Viggo Mortensen lookalike in a leather singlet (my daughter: "Is that a Polish hottie?") and bovver boots strode with gimlet-eyed purpose down the street into a New Mexico sunset. Despite the sense of remission, despite the hard-working waiters, with their billowing ice-skater tou-tous, despite the steaming coffee and urinous smell of bison-grass vodka, something else kept moving in the shadows, or darting in the corner of one's eye, like that little red-caped figure in the movie Don't Look Now.

In Kazimeircz, tour groups, in cargo trousers and t-shirts (still bearing the creases of packing and cargo-hold compression), were trooping along the cobbles, stopping to stare up at a piece of featureless wall, gathering (faces fussy with hard-working attention) at an Old Curiosity Shop-type window, while a woman with a checkered flag harangued them in Italian, French or Spanish. The speechifying was stupefying and hard to follow, so we wandered off into a nearby square. With its broken paving-stones, rainbow gutters and mean stalls, the place looked run-down, an area of neglect, still shivering and hugging its sides in Cold War misery, awaiting its turn at the new-minted tubular steel and under floor-heated soup-stall of modernity. We scanned the walls for tour-arrows and "you-are-here" maps. Down one street, other visitors were flicking through their Fodor guides, ears twitching, nervous as antelopes. Behind them, a synagogue—the Isaak Synagoga, the plaque said—looked misplaced, or pushed into a corner. A crane and bulldozer shook their booties nearby, something else motorized thudded invisibly inside a tent of dust. Snatches of catchy pop (Beyoncé and Sean Paul) came from a window. "Baby boy you stay on my mind / Fulfill my fanta-seees." Two women, emerging from the synagogue, wore the exhausted expressions of clubbers heading home.

Inside, a hectoring man was making sure each male visitor put on a tiny feather-light yarmulke. We stepped into a bare cell-like space. No altar or tabernacle. A TV set, to one side. Ranks of pews, with scattered congregation. Silent flickering black-and-white images of men, women and children gathering, dispersing, climbing into trucks, laying down parcels, picking them up, staring about, gathering, dispersing, climbing into trucks, laying down parcels, picking them up, staring about—a Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) officer repeatedly swinging round, glancing at the camera. Photo, my friend?

Meditative as our companions, we thought: What time is it? Isn't it time to go? After the decent interval—always after the decent interval—we rose, moving on into the next room, which had been made into a makeshift gallery, with freestanding screens of photographs, stills from the film. I had to keep my fingers perched on my head, to hold the yarmulke in place. Hesitating, an old man looked back at an old woman (do we go this way? is it permitted?), bringing to the exhibition the pathos of a quieter, more humdrum, more conscionable kind of obedience. In another room, off to the left, in darkness, lit only by another ordinary TV, we could sit through it once again, could regard with wary eyes the same play of light and shadow, the same Schutzstaffel glance, and begin to worry once more about the time. There is nothing scandalous in this worrying. How do you understand what you're doing, what you're seeing, where you're at, if you don't know how to worry? Worry is what reminds you that you're alive, that you didn't have to go through that—. No, that's not it.

Walter Benjamin, burrower among books and ideological meadows, gives the word aura an ever more fragile etymology, an almost nostalgic vanishing point. A work of art, he says, has (or had) an aura when it is (or was) original, authentic and unrepeatable (and therefore authoritative), testifying only to itself or, at most, to its passage through different settings and ownerships, from the seclusion of the cave or oratory to the public gallery. It loses its ritualized purgative magic as pure image, pure hymn, when it testifies to what is other than itself; in the age of mechanical reproduction, it undergoes a process of withering. This process, Benjamin says, has significance outside the realm of art. (All that once spoke so effortlessly of tradition, the unique, the authoritative—be they artworks, buildings, monuments, great speeches, constitutional acts—vanish into their copies.) For Benjamin, who had yet to flee Germany, the withering began to happen in the mid-1930s, with the increased accessibility of the photographic print and the moving picture.

The worry comes from what is posterior to the event, not to the event itself, to smaller everyday urgencies. My daughter's feeling of faintness is caused by lack of sleep, not by the repeated impact of transportation and genocide. My irritableness comes from having to lean awkwardly against a wall—because the rear seats are all taken, and you cannot sit at the front for fear of blocking out the screen, for fear of obtruding your brash 21st century back between the sacramental violence and the mute arithmetic of witness. Courtesy takes different forms. Is reverence so different from terror? But that is not the point; the point is the rascally persistence of consciousness, of the happening present and its little delinquencies. (This man who hunts under his chair for a dropped yarmulke, that woman who thinks she's trampled someone's foot, and apologizes to the dark, are also worriers.) And these demands, which are the body's indifference, or resistance, to the gravity of testimony, will always dog our steps, signal from the corner of our ever-widening eyes.

We got lost looking for further signs of the ghetto, fetching up at a cathedral where TV crews were stringing cables up and arranging studio-lights on the steps. When we went back up the street, we found another TV crew and a group of well-lit men in shiny suits, gelled hair and diamond ear-studs. Perhaps it was a wedding, a movie, or the visit of a political dignitary or mafia boss. Whatever it was, it seemed appropriate. Our lives are televisual, are they not? We all have our 15 minutes, do we not? That night, we sat in my room watching the Athens Olympics' 4X100 meters final getting ready. My hopes (and fears) were pinned on Maurice Greene—all ludic strut and exaggerated hip-swing, the neurotic machismo of that up-from-under scowl. Would he redeem himself? Would the humiliation of the 100 meters final be cancelled out in one last magnificent surge? Can't recall what happened, or even if Team America won. My daughter returned to her room to nurse her sleeplessness. We live in a society of spectacle; it's hard to hold our attention.

Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy, in 1919. He was arrested during the Second World War as a member of the anti-Fascist resistance and deported to Auschwitz in 1944. He was interred in one of the camp's subsidiaries, Buna-Monowitz, where he worked in a chemical facility till 1945, year of Russian liberation. His experiences in the camp and subsequent travels through Eastern Europe and Russia were the subjects of his memoirs, Surviving Auschwitz and The Drowned and the Saved, and several works of fiction and poetry. Forty years after his imprisonment, in the spring of 1982, Levi returned to the camp —"in the role," as he says, "of a tourist." (The experience was recorded by Radiotelevisione Italiana and broadcast in 1983.) Levi died in Turin in April 1987. What would he have made of all this? In Krakow, in a hotel perhaps not so dissimilar to ours, he mentions two drunks he met in an elevator. He was impressed by their speech. It reminded him of his first visit to Poland, the guards. They spoke in harsh consonantal curses, a language of "nothing," a "truly hellish" speech. The memory of the event, not the event itself, is what overwhelms and shocks.

August 29th. The road to the town of Oswiecim was a single-lane highway. After the motorway-tangled outskirts and chain-smoking foundries, we were suddenly speeding through lines of mature poplars, swelling hills and generous pasture. There were ponds with men and boys fishing, a monastery on a hill. "Look, monster, ja!" our driver, neck tensing under its soft pink folds, gestured manically. "Monster? Where?" I yipped. "Monastery, dad." "Monastery, ah, yes, good!" craning to look back at some slate roofs among the trees, display my touristic interest and gratitude for our driver's visual gifts. We passed through toy-town villages (grey brick church, single-tank petrol station, white-washed post-office) and acre after acre of yellow flowers. "Look! Shops, ja!" "Shops?"—my swiveling head—"Wow!" Sometimes imposture becomes grotesque. I felt my daughter looking at me.

Near Oswiecim, we passed a train moving along an embankment. I began to ask the driver whether that was the actual line that—. He didn't understand what I was saying. He was accustomed to using German with his customers, not English. Maybe it didn't matter what language was spoken anyway. I imagined him thinking: Better to anticipate what the silly man says; just bellow infantile rubbish at him. His enthusiasms careered down the slope of this decision. "Ja, choof-choof, ja! Yes! OK! Two minutes to museum, no problem! Then we are go Birkenhau! All is good! No problem! That is football stadium." The town opened out with the awful dreary sameness of a suburb anywhere. We came to an electrified fence (scrubbed new-looking three-meter tall walking-stick shaped concrete poles, the handles facing outwards), then a car park, sleek double-decker coaches, people consulting guidebooks. "I wait two hours, three hours, no problem! Then Birkenhau, yes? All is good! No problem!"—The crass simplifications ("Don't worry, be happy," "There is a God," "Of course"), the shocking nudity of words, stripped of decoration or reticence. I said we'd be back in a couple of hours. "Two hours, ja, yes, OK! No problem! I am here, ja, yes, OK? All is good!" Our driver looked as if he wanted to smite me on the back, and emit a lusty roar, so great was his sense of universal good. "Thank you. Yes. No problem. Good."

Levi recalled the dislocation he'd felt when the guards had spoken only Polish or Yiddish, and he and his companions had understood neither. After travelling for seven days in a boxcar, water-less, licking frozen breath on the steel latches for sustenance, he'd heard these strange new words, commands, questions. What to do? What to say? Say anything. It was, he said, as if he'd lost his reason, or the ability to reason altogether.

The museum looked almost benign in the summer sunshine. With its sturdy gabled buildings arranged in phalanxes, its full-grown leafy trees, its cobbled concourses, its tour groups bent over their camcorders or cigarette lighters—witness, witness—it had the pleasing architectural simplicity and low-key festive air of an art gallery, a modishly ugly one, the sort of structure that might do for a redeveloped city-centre, Wolverhampton, say or Brussels. The spot-lit black-and-white photo-shoots, the sexy industrial chic, the blown-up charcoal drawings, the artificial wall-section (a pocked grey plastic imitation of the wall they used to shoot "politicals" against) with its pile of off-centered wreaths, the wooden gibbets, even the dank hot cellars, with their eye-level arrows, explanatory notices and stifling shoulder-jostling passages, these could have been the exhibits, the wire-suspended installations, the interactive sets of a South Bank art gallery, laid out for us to cruise and coo in. In Block 4, room 5, a white-haired couple, cool in black sweaters and skin-tight black jeans, were scrutinizing with finger-cocked chins the Zyklon B canisters exhibit. In the same room there was a glass panel running the length of the wall. I had to wait an age while another tourist fiddled over his light-settings and angles, before I too could close in on the mounds of human hair.

The restored crematorium was a less sensational place. Too dark, too badly lit. Clammy cement walls. Lumpy machinery and razor-sharp cogs. Two ovens. The doors were open. Staring, we kept tripping on pipes and track. It was not silent in there. A guide, towing his own human cargo, was bawling cavernously in French.

In the car park, we saw our driver leap up, gesticulating. His high-pitched happiness made me think of the sort of jolly rosy-cheeked Mittel-European that figures in Fifties travel posters clutching bratwurst in one hand, a tankard of frothing beer in the other, and laughing out loud through healthy gappy teeth. Come! Enjoy! No problem! Still beaming, he drove us a mile or so down the main road, took a right, then cruised along a dirt road beside another high fence, so that—he gave us to understand—we might appreciate the sheer enormousness of Birkenhau (at its height it contained 10,000 prisoners), the length and breadth of its 175 hectares, the simple unadorned woodenness of its huts, the algebraic elegance of its sewage system.

In one hut I mistook recent graffiti (covering a wall with the intricate density of fifty years of vandalism and courtship), for the last-minute fumbled execrations of Levi's drowned. Crematoria II and III, which were dynamited by the fleeing Germans, had been left as the Russians found them, burst apart, lying in tarry slabs, with gloomy disheveled underneaths, now housing thuggish cats and discarded Marlboro Lite packs. A few people—a handholding group in Shetland jumpers, and me—bent and stretched, digital cameras glinting in our fists. The railway line, a double row of track, one for coming, one for going (to avoid time-consuming waits), moved towards us, broadening from a single point of origin. Near a watchtower at the middle, a tour group attended to its guide, swaying slightly with the disciplined syncopation of a choir. Across a stretch of grass, dragonflies played now you see me, now you don't. Following them, we finished up at a pretty little pool, green with algae and fat lilies. Watching glossy green fogs plop, we chatted about nothing. I chewed on a blade of grass. Later, I found that the pool, according to the guide-book, was "the pond into which ashes were tipped."

Aura is repeatedly conjured, and as repeatedly magicked away, by books and blockbuster movies, by what is promulgated in schools, places of worship and other institutions—by all that is drilled into us over and over again. Aura needs distance; it won't survive being turned over in the fingers like coin. Aura is memory without the frills, therefore no memory at all. What is left is a blank space, a wall, say, on to which we scrawl our own terrors and avowals, personal, fitful, largely trivial. In 1983, Primo Levi found it "comical," acceptably comical, that the museum should have a restaurant (a resort should have a restaurant, shouldn't it?). The thing that really troubled him was that the Polish government had appropriated Auschwitz as a monument to Polish martyrs. He didn't mean that the museum should not memorialize Polish internees; he meant that the camp was, or should have been, before that, and after that, the site of a larger, less parochial site of witness—one where language, faltering before the irreproducible, engages with its responsibility. In The Drowned and the Saved, he remembers a crippled three-year-old boy called Hurbinek, who could not speak yet whose eyes were fierce with demand and assertion, and who, one day, uttered a barely intelligible word that was neither message nor revelation, that was probably meaningless, but which, for Levi, articulated with absolute clarity the effort he had to make.

Benjamin says that if the auratic object is detached from tradition, if the unique existence dissolves into its copies, at the same time, reproduction can "reactivate the object" by "meeting the beholder in his own particular situation." In his own particular situation. This is a hard thing to grasp because it seems to equalize evil and goodness even as it devalues privilege, because it seems to ameliorate shame even as it rescues aura for private speculation. Alone with our thoughts, are we not able to go where others, sharing theirs, have neither time nor leisure nor hope of going? Yet there is room still for community, or cruelty. Where Levi spoke of a football match, between the SS and Sonderkommandos, as the true horror (normalcy performing itself next door to slowly accumulating slaughter), others could be aroused by the plump bottom of a nurse in the camp infirmary only a few hundred yards away from the columns of shivering heat.

What is left for us now of Hurbinek's attempt at speech, or Levi's words? —Dumb open mouth that through referential promiscuity and repetition, the slick transformational grammar of postmodernity, turns into something out of a tongue-in-cheek slasher flick. After re-cycling, after re-imaging, the look of horror returns as ohmigod, the dropped jaw of automatic dismay. We shed gelatin tears. ("Auschwitz," the Atrium's concierge told me later, pushing across the guide-book and speaking with the disturbing flatness of tone only a second language speaker can ever achieve, "is the saddest place on earth.") This is what remains of aura.

Theodore Adorno said that there could be no more poetry after Auschwitz. The camp introduced the unspeakable, the unimaginable, the inhuman into language and history. Adorno's shock fed into the idea of "holocaust," which Levi, for one, distrusted. (Holocaust, which alludes to sacrifice by fire, or to burnt offering, struck him as "wrong," "rhetorical.") Giorgio Agamben finds in Adorno's impossibility (or his shock), an ethic of possibility: the inhuman begets the human, the unspeakable requires the speakable, Hrubinek's babble drives Levi's eloquence. We do write poetry, but it has become cautious, perhaps spellbound by those negative prefixes, perhaps conscious of the respect due those who were silenced, perhaps ashamed of its own prolixity and too easily acquired decency. —"I should not be so proud / of my latecomeliness of virtue / My tongue moves latterly / and disproportionately / over the atrocious." Others choose Adorno's route into silence. Jean Améry, also confined in Buna-Monowitz, conceived of language as a vast hibernation, from which he could only emerge (in the Sixties) as proponent of a specific identity and self-slaughter.

Agamben sees in the concentration camp the biopolitical paradigm of the modern world and its power structures; the camp, the Lager, is where power confronts human life in the raw, without mediation. Here, there is no such entity as a citizen, there are only bodies, stripped, exposed, rendered down, ready to be re-made, numbered, categorized, used, re-used, or not. Agamben doesn't wonder how the crimes of Auschwitz could have been committed; rather he wonders how the crimes could have become so normalized, so commonplace and natural, as to lose all taint of criminality, of wrong. By what singular and remarkable socio-juridical process, he asks, do human beings reduce other human beings to things? The curious, the unseemly fact is that the same wonder must apply to our own reductions now. By what process, as singular and remarkable no doubt, has this scene of horror become, for us, an object of pleasure?

Levi writes: "Many people—many nations—find themselves holding, more or less wittingly, that 'every stranger is an enemy.' For the most part this conviction lies deep down like some latent infection... and does not lie at the base of a system of reason. But when this does come about, when the unspoken dogma becomes the major premise in a syllogism, then, at the end of the chain, there is the Lager."—Substitute "a thing" for "an enemy," though it hardly makes any difference.

In Auschwitz, bodies were differentiated one by one. They were tattooed and labeled, each label (a red, yellow, pink, violet, black or green triangle) conferring identity on them—identity, that is, in our special modern sense of national or cultural, religious or racial, sexual, social or physical differences—as in: the (Polish or Russian) political body (red), the Jewish body (yellow), the Gypsy body (black), the homosexual body (pink), the Jehovah's Witness body (violet), the criminal body (green). Auschwitz survivors mention other kinds of bodies, bodies that spoke and bodies that did not (Mussulmeinen, or Muslims, as they were known, after their posture of seeming prayer—heads bowed, hands clasped to breast), bodies that rebelled and bodies that did not (the Sonderkommandos), bodies that were shot, bodies that were sterilized, bodies that were starved, bodies that were cut up, bodies that were injected with dye, bodies that had toxic substances rubbed into their surfaces. Therein, perhaps, we find a way of reading our own situation. If the careful labeling and categorization of bodies (by race, religion, nationality, sexuality, gender) is the modern practice of power, then our silence or complicity, our resentment or enjoyment, marks an end to another syllogistic chain. Agamben observes: "Behind the powerlessness of God peeps the powerlessness of men, who continue to cry 'May that never happen again!' when it is clear that 'that' is, by now, everywhere." Everywhere, my friend.


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