Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflections on Majdanek

It is odd that a historian-in-training has not yet completed his first viewing of Band of Brothers. But I am getting close. A lot of credit is owed to those who were a part of the production of this mini-series.

Tonight I watched the 9th Episode in the Mini-Series. 'Why We Fight'.

It includes the scene in which Easy Company discovers a Concentration Camp.

After watching the episode, I began talking about it with a friend of mine. And I had to hold back tears. Because what was shown was powerful, and painful to view. As it should be - and hopefully is for everybody. But, when we started talking about Auschwitz-Birkenau, and we started talking about Majdanek, and the feeling of walking through the camps and knowing where you are, recognizing your location in a photo taken 60 years ago by a journalist documenting the extermination of people.

As cattle.

Individuals treated as cattle and left to die as though they are worth less than over-ripe cabbage in a flooded field. Only worth death, but just barely worth that.

When I was on my tour of Germany and Poland, and going through death-camps, I was given a 'person' whose story I was to follow from day-to-day. My person was named Ruth. She was Polish. Jewish. 14-years old when the war started in 1939; a dedicated piano player who loved to go to the library. She had two brothers, both younger. Lived in a house with her parents and grandparents (on her mother's side). In 1941, at the age of 15, she was taken to Majdanek. She survived the first selection, and the second, and the third. Her mother and grandmother did not. Her father, grandfather and brothers were separated long before - and she didn't know their fate (none of them survived the camps, only the father made it past the railway). On the fourth selection, without hope and having been defeated long before by the death and disease and death and disease and harassment and death that surrounded her, she failed. She was killed in late 1941 - aged 16.

My brother had a completely different story, of a boy from Yugoslavia. Jewish. 7 years old. 1943 - put into a train cart. Selected for extermination. Killed, 1943. 7 Years old.

There were 22 individuals on the tour with us. 24 different stories dangling around our necks as we walked through fields of rapidly deteriorating barracks that once housed hundreds of people. Tiny buildings, tiny beds. The ruts where the water was the run were still there. In some places you could still get a sense of how human traffic moved from day to day - weakly, but with purpose. To survive to the next meal.