|This World Is Not
| I gained an important perspective on Auschwitz from an
Israeli dentist who had spent three years in that camp. We were completing a
long interview, during which he had told me about many things, including
details of SS dentists supervision of prisoners removal of gold
fillings from the teeth of fellow Jews killed in the gas chambers. He looked
about the comfortable room in his house with its beautiful view of Haifa,
sighed deeply, and said, This world is not this world. What I think
he meant was that, after Auschwitz, the ordinary rhythms and appearances of
life, however innocuous or pleasant, were far from the truth of human
existence. Underneath those rhythms and appearances lay darkness and menace.
The comment also raises the question of our capacity to approach
Auschwitz. From the beginning there has been enormous resistance on the part of
virtually everyone to knowledge of what the Nazis were doing and have done
there. That resistance has hardly abated, whatever the current interest in what
we call the Holocaust. Nor have more recent episodes of mass
slaughter done much to overcome it. For to permit ones imagination to
enter into the Nazi killing machine to begin to experience that killing
machine is to alter ones relationship to the entire human project.
One does not want to learn about such things.
nothing is darker or more menacing, or harder to accept, than the participation
of physicians in mass murder. However technicized or commercial the modern
physician may have become, he or she is still supposed to be a healer
and one responsible to a tradition of healing, which all cultures revere and
depend upon. Knowledge that the doctor has joined the killers adds a grotesque
dimension to the perception that this world is not this world.
During my work I gained the impression that, among Germans and many others,