Saturday, 6 October 2007

Postcards from the massacre

A picture that may well be offensive to some people, showing Nazis at their leisure. To add to the insult, the picture was taken in Auschwitz; the man in the first deck-chair is the adjutant to the commandant. The photo album it's taken from seems to have been his, if I've understood correctly.

The album is on online display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and it's important for the simple reason that these willing executioners were all people too. In other photos you can see in the museum slideshow (but which I couldn't capture) you'd find it hard to distinguish the group of Nazis and their sympathisers from the population of any of the picturesque photos on Shorpy.

That's not in the least to diminish the enormity of what the people in the picture did, and were doing even as the shutter clicked. Quite the reverse. It's important to remember that the perpetrators of such crimes were not carrying the mark of the Devil. They didn't have horns and tails and operate in a Hieronymous Bosch landscape. They looked and sounded just like us, they got drunk and giggled, they listened to accordion music, and they got mud on their boots, and ashes on the shoulders of their uniforms.

I would love to think there's such a thing as evil, and that evil things are done by evil people. That would make the world such a safer place to live in: all you have to do is figure out the tell-tale signs.

It's not like that. The worst crimes are carried out by men and women. Men, usually. Blokes. People you meet. People you live beside. They look like the people in these pictures.