Every time I write about Gaza, somebody on the Israeli side jumps in and demands to know why I don’t write about other injustices elsewhere in the world.
Why aren’t you talking about Afghanistan? Somalia? Darfur? Korea? You’re anti-Semitic.
Very well then. Let me tell you why I write about Gaza.
Many years ago in London, I had a friend called Henry Glanz. Henry was a Jew who had been evacuated from Northern Poland as a child in the Kindertransport. He was a quiet decent, cultivated man who spent two years trying his patient best to teach me German and I came to love him very much. He opened my mind to philosophy, art, music, science, history and he even managed to hammer a bit of German into my thick skull. He was an all-round cultivated and kind man, who exemplified in my mind the sort of people Hitler had exterminated in his hateful murder campaign.
To me, Henry was a vestige of the cultured soul of Europe that had been destroyed by the Nazi beasts.
His parents and family were murdered in Auschwitz.
I haven’t seen Henry in many years but I had the opportunity to visit Krakow in December 2008, and of course I went to see the Ghetto made famous in Schindler’s List. The remnants of that vile boundary wall will stay in my mind forever, shaped like Jewish gravestones in heavy-handed German Nazi humour. A place where thousands of decent people were forced to live in squalor and ultimately murdered by unfeeling brutes. An obscenity.
As we were in Krakow, I went to Auschwitz because it simply isn’t possible to be that close to the heart of darkness without confronting it, and because I wanted to honour the memory of Henry’s family.
It resulted in this post on the 6th December 2008.
As long as I live, I will never forget the feeling as we walked through the gigantic Auschwitz murder factory. I will never forget standing at the rail-head in Birkenau, on the very spot where Josef Mengele selected his victims. I will never forget the thought of those terrified people, dragged from trains, harried by dogs and clubbed by uniformed thugs, as I stood there on the precise spot where the man who decided their fate used to stand. I tried to think my way into the vacuum behind his eyes, and I’m glad to say that I failed.
I went to the stilling pond where the ashes of Henry’s parents had been hosed after their extermination, and I paid my quiet respects, without a prayer since I have no religion, but with good wishes, wherever they may go. It’s said that wherever you walk in Birkenau, you walk on human remains that flew from the chimneys.
Auschwitz left its mark on me, as it does to many who visit, and it stays with me today.
Less than a month after I went to Auschwitz, reports began to appear on the news of other people crammed behind a wall in appalling, insanitary conditions, guarded by soldiers and short of food. Stories began to emerge of a bombardment by a gigantic military power against these people.
The Jewish British MP, Gerald Kaufman, whose parents survived Auschwitz and Maidanek, compared Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto, but I was thinking of smaller things. I was thinking of kind, decent Henry Glanz, my dear friend, and what he would think of the things being done in his name and the name of his murdered parents.
I thought he might be baffled that the descendants of those Jews who had been so persecuted could be so indifferent to the suffering of people.
That’s why I write about Gaza.
Also on Bock: Auschwitz