Friday, 8 October 2010

Passive Nails

We finished our visit of the Museum today - a move onwards from the material of the early stages of the Jewish confinements which we saw previously to the material that dealt with the events post-Barbarossa. This included, naturally, the Wannsee Conference and the 'Final Solution' that it orchestrated.

This museum holds no bars to the material it displays. It is certainly not a place for children (and I find myself wondering how a child could ever be educated appropriately about the Holocaust). There were the personal effects of so many (still) nameless victims, piles of hundreds of discarded shoes that were removed prior to their owners' execution, so many carefully written accounts that were hidden for later discovery, hour upon hour of film footage ranging from personal testimonies delivered by elderly Jews who still weep when telling their stories to films of executions, the earth-movers shovelling cadavers into pits like recent scenes from Foot and Mouth farms. There was a girl's jacket with its bullet hole just under the right shoulder-blade. There were displays of the passive and calm faces of Nazi soldiers as they followed their orders, as well as the well-educated men who devised this evil unthinkable disposal.

Towards the end of the display we were greeted by the remains of one of the train carriages, a couple of the tri-story bunks, and part of the frame of one of the rabbit-hutch dormitories that the Jews were forced to exist in during their final days. As I gazed upon these things I noticed the workmanship - and I recognised the hurry that was required to construct these camps and their furnishings. The quality of the carpentry was absent and clumsy, blunt and functional - and using so many nails. Such an immediate need for functionality perhaps removes the need for quality workmanship; maybe the carpenters employed for the job sensed what these oak planks would bear witness to ...

The nails.

The first thing that jumped into my mind as I tried to find a way of accommodating the horrors that were unfolding in front of me was the way that nails held such a crucial yet passive role in the death of these people. I then pondered the nails that held Christ's hands and feet to another slab of wood, how they did their job so passively, so successfully.

I don't know if drawing parallels between the Cross and Treblinka is appropriate, but the similarities were there for me. The work of these passive nails was the execute the wills of the destructive and powerful regimes of their day. Innocent people died by wood and nail in one way or another - without mercy.

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