The banality of evil

I blogged earlier about the new album of photographs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the ones showing Auschwitz guards frolicking during their off hours. I’ve got a couple of things to add. The first is a link to the entire album, here. And the second is Roger Cohen’s article, at Germany’s Spiegel Online, which contains this accurate summation of the weird horror these photos elicit in the viewer:

In thinking about the Holocaust, we have grown accustomed to images of the Nazis’ victims: shadowy naked figures on the edge of ditches about to be dispatched by the SS-Einsatzgruppen; huddled wide-eyed children; skeletal human simulacra; piles of bones. Getting the perpetrators in focus is harder.

But here, revealed by these newly discovered photographs, are the German murderers in all their dumb humanity, flirting and joking and lighting Christmas trees, as if what awaited them after the frolicking were just the bus to some dull job in a dental office rather than the supervision of Auschwitz’s industrialized killing machine.

If they were downwind of the camp, did some trace of the acrid-sweet stench of death ever mess with the merry-making? Did the image of a Jewish girl from Budapest being herded toward the gas mar a mouthful? Did conscience stir or doubt impinge? Was it clear that the children had to die in order to eradicate not only a people, but also their memory? Such questions are useless. The facts must speak for themselves.


One Response

  1. I have also seen this exhibit, and feel strong affirmation for Cohen’s article.

    Those pictures repulsed me to the core, for the very reason they stood for: fun and frolic, pleasure and recreation, while others in the very vicinity were being gassed.

    Who knew…

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