Son of Saul

Monday Morning Musings:

“Art is the lie that helps us see the truth.”

–Pablo Picasso

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

–Elie Wiesel, Night

We went to see Son of Saul

It was International Holocaust Remembrance Day,

January 27.

On this date in 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau,

The Nazi death camp.

“Work will set you free.”

Free from living

That is,

Cessation

Extermination

Six million or more

The theater was not full,

But there were small groups of people

And one or two by themselves

More people than we usually see at “foreign” movies.

Many of them were elderly–

Meaning older than us–

And I wondered if any were survivors.

Would this trigger memories

Of past horors?

Some seemed surprised the film was subtitled,

And I hoped they knew what it was about.

Saul was a sonderkommando

One who ushered in new victims

Lead them to the “showers,”

Listened to their cries

Carted away their bodies

Sorted the objects they left behind

Shoes here

Gold there

Hair in the bags

A boy still breathes

The Nazi doctor kills him.

No one is to survive.

But how did it happen

That he escaped death?

The doctor wants to know.

I wonder how a doctor

Pledged to help others

Could be an executioner.

I watch the movie.

My eyes do not leave the screen

Though my body

Curls up protectively

Arms hugging chest–

Yet I know this is only a movie,

A depiction of the evil that was

But nothing like the reality,

Hell on earth

And if there is a devil

He surely was there

Watching humans destroy

The bodies and souls of others.

I wondered if my husband would say,

“What did you make me watch?”

But after, he agrees it was a powerful movie.

I keep thinking of the actor’s face,

Even now a month later.

Blank, stoic, yet haunted

How did he convey so much

While saying so little?

The sonderkommandos could not display emotion

Could not

Would not

Crack–

Till they did.

The movie focuses on his face,

Much of the action is blurred behind him.

We hear speech and yells,

German, Yiddish, Hungarian

The barking of dogs

The camera does not show or embrace the violence.

Master directors know it’s not necessary.

Remember the shower scene in Psycho?

It is enough to hear the cries and banging on the door

To see the blood scrubbed from the floor.

We know what has happened.

 

The sonderkommandos really did plan

And execute an uprising.

Executed some Nazis.

Were executed themselves.

Some by other inmates upon liberation.

They were considered collaborators.

But I can’t judge them.

Who knows what we would do in their situation?

They left papers, recently found.

The Scrolls of Auschwitz,

Buried in a crematorium

Mostly from Crematorium III

There were several, you know

More than one necessary

Because

The death factory ran full time,

Day and night.

Some pages faded with moisture and time

But others still legible

Record transports and mass killings

Record

How people were duped

Record the planned uprising

Record the horror

And show that some hoped others

Would learn what happened there

So that it would not happen again.

 

I think of people here

Now

In the present

“We like his plain talk,”

They say

Embracing the hate-filled speech

Of demagogues.

Build walls

Keep out the foreigners

Us, not them

Whoever they and them are.

I read the words of supporters

Tweeting out hateful messages against

People of color

Women

Jews

Muslims

Kill them

Rape them

Question the abolition of slavery

I shudder at the ignorance.

People who have no knowledge of history.

People who do not understand the Constitution

Or the role of the president

Do not understand

Separation of powers

Civil rights or

The hard fight for freedom

That they would destroy

In the name of what they call

“Liberty.”

Liberty to hate others

Is what it seems to me.

Crazy world

Crazy times.

 

Mass killings

Mass rapes

Nanking

Cambodia

Rwanda

Kosovo

Guatemala

And more,

Killing fields

Endless numbers

Men, women, children

Destroyed.

 

My husband and I do not go to eat

After this movie

It seems wrong

Disrespectful somehow

Our stomachs clenched

Our minds jumbled

Trying to comprehend

Mass atrocities

But we stop for coffee to talk

To discuss the movie

To decompress

To see the truth in art

To discuss life

To bear witness in some small way

To the survivors

And

To those who were killed

For no reason

Other than their religion,

Their sexual orientation,

Their ethnic origins.

It is still happening

And I don’t have an answer

Except to say

I stand against hate

Will you stand with me?

 “Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred.”

–Elie Wiesel, Millennium Lecture, April 12, 1999.  Read the speech here.

Son of Saul won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film last night.

Further Reading:

Fresh Air Episode discussing Son of Saul

Holocaust Art.

Auschwitz Scrolls