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Memory, Ownership and the Holocaust

Updated: Aug 13

For the duration of this course we have discussed a varied number of subtopics related to one, important, vast theme: The Holocaust. But, it seems to me, one subtopic that has become almost a subject of its own is the interwoven: memory and witnessing – for one can’t speak about one without the other being present (even if only implied).

Memory, implies in itself the act of witnessing – how can we have in our memory something we have not witnessed (directly or indirectly!)?

In the subject at hand, this memory and this witnessing are directly linked to two perspectives: The memory of the oppressed (those who survived the holocaust) and the memory of the oppressor (the Nazi’s who have been tried for their crimes as well as those who escaped the hands of justice). But this memory of both sides rises another question: ownership!

We have today, many examples of surviving oppressed Jews as we have knowledge of many war criminals from the Second World War. To Whom does Auschwitz (for example) belong? To the state? To those who committed horrors there? To those who suffered and were abused on its premises? Because all these seem to lay some kind of claim to the physical geographical area where such evil occurred.

But, most of all, the one’s laying a bigger claim to Auschwitz seem to be the oppressor and the oppressed. Why and How (one might ask)?

Through the acts of memory and witnessing. There are countless testimonies to both sides. We have focused on many of them through the last ten weeks. Now, we shall focus on an oppressor and oppressed solely.

Dora Sorell, was a Jewish girl who lived in Sighet (Romania) and was “deported” to Auschwitz in the last year of the war when the soviet army was already at the borders of Hungary. None the less, within that year the “final solution” regarding the Jews escalated and advanced much quicker, maybe the Nazi’s were scared of not completing their objective of a Germany free of Jews.

After arriving in Auschwitz Dora was first separated from the male members of her family and later, also, from her mother. She never saw either again. On her literary work “Tell the Children” she describes much of what she and her companions suffered, from starvation, to beatings, to the constant fear of not knowing if that was the moment she would die. After the end of the war Dora tried using the number tattooed on her arm to find out about her family – no records were found. But one factor seemed to go in Dora’s favour, when she returned to her home, after her release from Auschwitz, which had been occupied by another family she found – waiting for her – her high school sweetheart with whom she married and built a family. It wasn’t until she had grandchildren that Dora was capable of sharing her memory and her witnessing.

Adolf Eichman was born in 1906 in Solingen, Germany. He joined the SS in 1932. One year later, as the Nazi’s came into power he became a squad leader and became a member of the administration staff of the Dachau concentration camp, having later left and became an SS First Lieutenant by the end of 1938. He then helped form the Central Agency of Jewish Emigration in Vienna. He was an expert on Jewish affairs and oversaw: concentration camps, deportation, confiscation of assets. He was one of the major players in the “final solution” – he was by 1940 a Lieutenant Colonel.

In 1942, Eichman attended the Wannsee conference as a recording secretary. Here, the genocide plan Germany had for the Jews was official. He then became responsible for overseeing the transportation of Jews to the camps. In November 1944 (Hungary) he was ordered to cease extermination and destroy any evidence regarding the “Final Solution”. He disregarded his orders. He fled Budapest in December just before the Soviets circled the city.

Eichman was captured by the Israeli Mossad – in Argentina,1960 – and put on trial. Like many captured officers Eichman refused to “speak of the unspeakable”; His very language asked to be analysed at a psychological level by someone gifted enough to understand that he spoke in cliches and slogans, in what he liked to call “Official-ease”. As example we have the term “final solution” which was used instead of the words “kill” or “murder”. The Nazi’s spoke, even to each other, in some kind of coded euphemisms.

Even though he claimed to be innocent, that he didn’t know and later for understanding from the Israeli court Adolf Eichman was tried for his crimes and hanged in 1961.

Still, the question remains: To whom does Auschwitz belong? To the oppressed or the oppressors who had it built in the first place? It seems that even though there are many genres of memory and testimony, from both sides of the spectre, this question shall never be answered, unless it is like this: Auschwitz belongs in the walls of History herself…

Author Note: This piece was written within the context of a Course I took years ago regarding the Jewish Case during the Holocaust. Some friends read it and loved it so I decided to publish it as well.

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