Of the victims who became perpetrators
September 19, 2016
70 years after it was written, Mordechai Strigler’s “Majdanek” report is published in German. It puts an end to the unspoken agreement not to show victims as perpetrators as well.
The voluntary self-regulation allowed quite a few things to be swept under the table in post-war Germany. Voice documents of Hitler in which he didn’t rail disappeared in poison cabinets: Nobody, absolutely no one should have been able to find this voice likeable any longer. Photographs taken by an Auschwitz inmate in front of a gas chamber in August 1944 were kept under lock and key for a long time: The postulate of the inconceivability of the shoah shouldn’t fall into falter.
These parallels are inevitably drawn in light of the “Majdanek” report by Mordechai Strigler, because the book appears in German only now, 70 years after it was written. On the other hand, it was available in English, French and Dutch. The book touches on the taboo of the cruel behaviour of the Jewish concentration camp prisoners among themselves. Others had already touched upon this gloomy aspect.
In the memories of the psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, whom the Americans liberated from Dachau concentration camp, it was claimed in 1946: “Relentlessly they fight for their own interests, be they personal or those of closest friends.” But Germany rather kept with literarily over-inflated books like Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man,” where the brutalities that must have taken place in the barracks were heavily filtered in solidarity with the six million dead.
“All of these came from the ranks of the prisoners”
Strigler was a journalist and preacher at the Great Synagogue of Warsaw when the Second World War began. He was 25 years of age when they deported him to Majdanek in June 1943. There he spent seven weeks, subsequently his ordeal took him through 11 other camps. He was liberated in Buchenwald. Strigler, who emigrated to America in 1952, then became one of the most prolific Yiddish writers of the 20th century. His “Majdanek” report is committed to realism. It doesn’t try to gloss over anything.
Homo homini lupus. That’s what the organizational structure of the concentration camps was based upon. Strigler describes the hierarchy: “The Czech and Slovak Jews played the main role in the internal order. They were proficient in correct German and were already psychologically closer to the Germans than to the Jews, especially the Jews from the East. They were the camp clerks who decided on camp posts and on a better or worse workplace. Then, at first, came the block seniors who were recruited from various suspicious Polish and Ukrainian elements as well as a number of Jewish coverts and assimilated Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. Furthermore, there was a camp clerk in the block and the so-called barrack room duty. All of them had unlimited power. They could do what they wanted with the food of their block … At the workplaces the kapo was the chief ruler. The foremen were subordinated to him. Those had their own semiofficial collaborators, the so-called racketeers. Each individual had the power to hit and to send a man to his death if he didn’t like him. All of these came from the ranks of the prisoners.”
“Now it is impossible to hold back”
The “barrack room duty” held “trials”. Those who refused to relinquish one of their own vital rations of bread were beaten until they looked like a candidate for the gas chamber at the roll call. There were sadists who tortured in a “precise and methodical” way. There was vigilantism.
Strigler describes how one of these tormentors was almost beaten dead in his barrack: “Up to twenty people stand … around a hated piece of meat, and everyone wants to tear out a piece of excruciating satisfaction, a chunk of claimed justice.”
“Majdanek” does away with the unspoken agreement not to show victims as perpetrators. The publisher zu Klampen who repeatedly publishes provocative nonfiction in addition to major editions (Marcuse, Morgenstern) has translated Strigler’s book into German for the first time. It is an interesting and at the same time terrifying reading.
https://www.welt.de/kultur/literarische ... urden.html
Which photographs is the author talking about in the first paragraph?