– The Text/Image essay was to be included in the late Harry James Cargas‘ latest book Last thoughts on the Holocaust –
They offer superficial healing for that break in my people by saying “Peace! Peace!” but there is no peace. – Yirmeyahu/Jeremiah 6:14
The Kishinev pogrom is a terrible and tragic fact in the twentieth century, that century in which humanity boasts of its civilization, its progress, its education, and culture. The entire capitalist world that trembles before the international force of the united proletariat tries through all possible means to undermine this unity and solidarity: by arousing national animosities among the workers; by inciting the basest instincts of a people against a foreign people and thereby diverting its attention from its real concerns, from the revolutionary socialist struggle. And in those countries where the people is especially ignorant and enslaved, all these efforts meet with great success. – Proclamation of the Jewish Labor Bund, April 1903 (in David Roskies’ Jewish Responses to Catastrophe)
The End is in the Beginning
First, let me assure you I do not intend to ignore the Jewish dimension of WW II – I have dealt with that elsewhere , and others are doing it effectively within the pages of this book*. I have to speak here of other matters: in reflecting on the disaster, instead of last thoughts on the Holocaust (as improbable for me as catching up with the horizon), I want to consider what was at the beginning of it, and possibly at the onset of any destruction; to pay homage to someone who had tried in his own dedicated manner to eradicate the germs of war, back in the 20’s.
At the end of WW I, a German pacifist named Ernst Friedrich opened the first ever anti-war museum. In it, he documented the methodical indoctrination that allows rational human beings to kill complete strangers: from children’s games to patriotic artifacts, all the details leading to the loss of concern for someone else’s life were presented. The pacifist argument was at its strongest because the naïveté of the “killing zeal” was contrasted with the WW I photographs Friedrich had collected, showing in full graphic detail the actual carnage and dehumanization of war.
Through all the incriminating evidence, he was hoping to put an end to the murderous illusions his compatriots were immersed in. He realized that his efforts needed to be duplicated in all countries, and to prove that this was not just a German issue, in 1924 he published a book War against War, based on the museum, with commentaries in four languages.
His overall efforts were thwarted though when later his museum was closed down by the Nazis, and he had to flee for his life to Switzerland.
The sobering confrontation with the true picture of war is, still today, silenced by our governments (John Huston’s documentary film, Let There Be Light, on the traumatized W.W.II GIs was not viewable for a good twenty years after completion).
The Information Missing triptych is my way to update the debate.
Instead of pure war mongering, today we are placated with the half-truths of advertisements and popular media. Their shortcuts, short-term thinking create group cohesiveness and easy consensus in case of mobilization for any product from deodorants to war. They facilitate everyday conversation and provide us with a false sense of security and knowledge.
Similarly, the Holocaust is, more often than not, used as a shield against thinking. It allows one the luxury to make sweeping characterizations of “evil” and, by becoming another word in our desensitized vocabulary, to circumvent concrete struggles.
We have to embrace the Holocaust. And yes, it remains an issue like slavery and our ecocide, thorns that survive within the continuum of time.
Only by recognizing how much we do not know and searching for our blind-spots will we learn.
Our mistakes will be corrected if we bring them to light and face up to them.
The severely maimed man from W.W.I stands out as a forewarning as to the brutality that was to come, and is still coming. What is missing in his face could be our future.
Pier Marton, 1998/5758
*The book was to contain many such essays but Harry Cargas died suddenly.