On this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, I liked Bernard Avishai’s moving re-telling of his recent visit to Auschwitz (as opposed to Israeli politicians who abuse the memory of the Holocaust to shamefully push the Zionist cause and smear any critics of the occupation):
For the overwhelming first impression I had in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which I still fear bringing to consciousness, was the terrible beauty of the place. And this, of all things, has stuck. I don’t mean the beauty of the meadow and forest, about which much has been written: the pathos of the birdsong, the mocking of the seasons. I have enough imagination to assume that the sounds of captivity and stench of murder would put the idyll of any countryside into a dark eclipse. I mean the perfect symmetry and elegant architectural touches of the camp itself: the deco curves in the pylons holding the electrified wires, the broad-shouldered grandeur of the masonry walls, the angular roof-lines over the receiving gates. Now, 60 years later, it looked to me like a flattened, transplanted Brooklyn Bridge gone to seed.
All of which put another thought in my head: what I am seeing now in my mind’s eye is very nearly how the camp must have looked to the architect, one Lothar Hartjenstein, before any structure actually went up. I can see him fussing over his blue-prints at 3 AM, perhaps tamping out his last cigarette, finally putting down his pencil. “Ya…,” I can hear him whispering to himself, the goose-flesh rising on his arms. It dawned on me that, perhaps, the most devilish Nazis after all were the Speers and the Hartjensteins, the purveyors of perfect symmetry. How magnificent was the world they dreamed up, which so many young Germans could only fall in love with; a world as beautiful as an F-16 in flight or a Victoria Secret model after Photoshop.