I’d better go ahead and post this before the news hook gets away from me completely…
Soldiers, and nations, are frequently whipped up into a warlike state with examples of atrocities, real or imagined, committed by the enemy.
One such outrage stands out in my memory as having instantly brought the urge to kill to the front of my mind. It was several years ago. I was watching a documentary on PBS. I forget the title or overall thrust of it. But at some point, it showed Jewish concentration camp inmates who were well-dressed and apparently well-fed and well-treated. Some of them were playing classical music for an appreciative audience of other contented-looking inmates sitting on chairs out in the sun.
The footage had been staged and shot by Nazis for homefront consumption, for newsreels in German cinemas, to show the folks at home how well their former Jewish neighbors were doing in their new environment.
That’s what put the blood light in my eye. I wanted to personally kill every Nazi who had anything to do with such a profoundly evil deception, which forced actual victims to play a part in making the Holocaust look hunky-dory. And I regretted that I was much too late.
I have a similar reaction whenever I see a photo with a concentration-camp gate saying “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” I want to find the monster who came up with the idea of mocking and taunting his wretched victims with such a message, with an added twist of Teutonic self-righteousness. I wanted to subject him to punishments our Constitution would regard as cruel and unusual.
In both cases, I think it’s maybe the appalling lie that dwells at the heart of these particular forms of cruelty that sets me off, that increases the outrage exponentially.
Anyway, I felt that impulse a number of times over the last few days. It seemed no coverage of the 70-year observance of the liberation of Auschwitz was complete without the image: “ARBEIT MACHT FREI”
And this time, I paused to find out who it was, if that could be determined. Wikipedia made it pretty easy:
The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. The slogan’s use in this instance was ordered by SS General Theodor Eicke, inspector of concentration camps and second commandant ofDachau Concentration Camp.
Eicke was not, to say the least, just another good German swept up in the Nazi madness. He was an SS-Obergruppenführer, a serious, hard-core National Socialist. How hard-core? He was one of the two who killed Brownshirt Chief Ernst Röhm following the Night of the Long Knives purge. Not that Röhm didn’t, you know, have it coming himself.
Eicke, too, is beyond my grasp. He died when his plane was shot down on the Russian front in 1943.
But at least I have a name to assign to the outrage now. One name, among the many responsible, of course…