Ruth Margalit on a new Israeli Facebook page, With My Besties in Auschwitz: http://nyr.kr/1izuS7h
“The page, taken down on Wednesday, culled from real-life photos—most of them also taken down recently—that had been posted on social-media sites by Israeli kids on school trips to Poland. From the self-absorbed faux seriousness of some (meditating on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau!) to the jarring jokiness of others (hitching a ride by the train tracks!), the pictures have fed a perception of today’s youth as a bunch of technology-obsessed, self-indulgent narcissists.”
Book Portrays Eichmann as Evil, but not Banal
More than 50 years after its publication, Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” remains enduringly controversial, racking up a long list of critics who continue to pick apart her depiction of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann as an exemplar of “the banality of evil,” a bloodless, nearly mindless bureaucrat who “never realized what he was doing.”
Bettina Stangneth, the author of“Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer,”published in an English translation this week by Alfred A. Knopf, didn’t aim to join those critics. An independent philosopher based in Hamburg, she was interested in the nature of lies, and set out around 2000 to write a study of Eichmann, the Third Reich’s head of Jewish affairs, who was tried in Israel in 1961, in light of material that has emerged in recent decades.
Then, while reading through the voluminous memoirs and other testimony Eichmann produced while in hiding in Argentina after the war, Ms. Stangneth came across a long note he wrote, dismissing the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, that flew in the face of Arendt’s notion of Eichmann’s “inability to think.”
“I sat at my desk for three days, thinking about it,” Ms. Stangneth said in a telephone interview from her home. “I was totally shocked. I could not believe this man was able to write something like this.”
Ms. Stangneth’s book cites that document and a mountain of others to offer what some scholars say is the most definitive case yet that Eichmann, who was hanged in 1962, wasn’t the order-following functionary he claimed to be at his trial, but a fanatically dedicated National Socialist.
Anna, a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation.
Gad Beck & Manfred Lewin
Beck had said on numerous occasions and during interviews over his lifetime that the single most important experience that shaped his life was his attempt to rescue his Jewish boyfriend, Manfred Lewin. When the Gestapo rounded up Lewin’s family in October 1942 for deportation to the East (by this time Gad knew what “transport to the East” meant), Beck borrowed a neighbor’s over-sized Hitler Youth uniform and marched into the transit camp in a bid to free his first love. Beck convinced an officer to temporarily put Manfred into his custody.
Once outside the camp, though, Lewin stopped dead in his tracks. “I was going out with him from the ‘locker’ and I said, ‘Manfred, now you are free – come!’ And he said no,” Beck recalled in an interview. “And it’s important to understand this: Manfred said, ‘I will never be free if I am not near my family. They are old and they are ill and I have to help them.’ And he went back to the locker without saying goodbye to me. I never saw him again. His entire family died in Auschwitz.”
As Gad returned home after leaving Manfred he said “In those seconds, watching him go, I grew up.”
Like a lost child in a fairy tale, a small boy is walking on a sunlit path, emerging from a dark forest. He is wearing shorts, leather shoes, and a patterned sweater. He is walking straight ahead, but his gaze is averted.
The image, as mysterious as a nightmare, was taken by the British photographer George Rodger on April 20, 1945, as the boy approached his jeep and the four British soldiers traveling with him on a road in southern Germany. When the image was published in Life magazine on May 7, 1945, the caption read: “A small boy strolls down a road lined with dead bodies near camp at Belsen.”
For Rodger, the day he met the child on the road was the day he quit war photography. He never took another image like it again. Belsen, he said, made him sick of turning other people’s suffering into something you look at and then turn the page. But his image of the little boy and what his gaze avoided has had a complex and revealing afterlife. It was captioned and re-captioned, as successive generations after 1945 kept asking new questions about its meaning.
—Michael Ignatieff, “Stories of Life After the Shoah”