holocaust

Watching Night & Fog

I once volunteered to be a guinea pig at Stony Brook Hospital to better their understanding of bipolar disorder. Answering the ad was the easiest part, everything else took weeks of mind numbing psychological questioning, standard medical testing, and counseling by three different doctors, one of which as the head of the department. There was a packet explaining the experiment that would be conducted, the location, and possible side effects of the chemicals and radiation being used both immediate and in the future. I decided not continue with the experiment due to the threat of radiation exposure. Because of this experience one of the images that hit me from “Night and Fog” was the one of a victim who had a severe phosphorus burn on a foot. Even though it was in black and white the burn was cutting through layers of skin leaving a huge hole of flesh exposed to germs in the air. I think what struck me was how random the experiments were in their cruelty and carelessness. The doctors betrayed the code of the medical field and became the best tormentors through the corruption of science. Victims of these concentrations camps wouldn’t be prepared for the cruelty because every camp had different personnel who had innovation ways to torture their prisoners. Incendiary bomb experiments could be found during November 1943 through January 1944 at Buchenwald to test various treatments on phosphorus burns from incendiary bombs. This type of infliction would carry greater risk of mortality then most forms of burns because phosphorus gets absorbed into the body. It continues to burn until something stops it like not having enough oxygen to go on, or being completely consumed by the body. These inventive experiments were both systemic and haphazard and really illustrates the holocaust as a whole.

It was really hard to pick things that seized me in the film because it was the “little” torments of their everyday life in those concentration camps that got me to ponder the most deeply. It was the rocking back and forth of prisoners looking for treatment for their aliments and injuries that would never come. It was the wide eyed panic of prisoners expecting terror day and night, and dying with the look of frozen horror. It was slow relish that prisoners sipped their bowls of food while lying on dirt as if it were their last meal. It was in the starved protruding angles and curves of moving bones, and their covering of their private parts to try to maintain some modesty, some dignity in the face of their sadistic tormentors. They remained so aware and protective of their human dignity and so very nearly dead.

The administers of the concentration camps saved piles of glasses, shoes, combs, and hair in the hopes they could make use of the possessions, body parts, and lives they stole. The camera lingered on these piles allowing their magnitude to speak for all the lives that once lived and died there. How does one count the strands of hair shaved off during their torment and eventual death? How do you count the deteriorating shoes, or the glasses that were once used to read, see, and know joy? The camera zooms down to a collection of hair and moves up, and it doesn’t seem to end. If a viewer walked in and didn’t know what we were watching they might think it was a mountain of muddied plowed dirt. My perception is that I will never understand the Holocaust. I’ll catch glimpses of it in moving pictures of the deceased staring like ghosts through the ages, or through the words of survivors who had to relive their experiences in detail so that decades from now someone could still pick it up and know of what happened. For now film, pictures, decaying piles of possessions and bones, books, letters, documents, and living survivors will bare testament to a warning and a cry that we never forget.

 

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