Stuttering in the face of evil

 Stuttering in the face of evil  ING-042
20 October 2023

Every death is a tragedy. Certainly, because it is close to my heart, what is happening in Israel hurts me more. But the death of one person, wherever they may be, anywhere in the world, is a tragedy.

When I heard that they had decapitated and burned children, I was speechless. I could not speak. Because I thought about a boy who was killed at Auschwitz and whose still-bleeding head was used to play football. How can human beings reach such an abyss? How can we call a cultured German man who plays football with a child’s head, “human”?

All the wars of the world are horrible. There are never any just wars, but at least in the past, it was a clash between two armies. For the kind of person I am, I do not even want to hold a knife in my hand. But these cannot even be called wars, but rather savage massacres.

I think that today we lack the words to be able to express the pain, the universal moral suffering. There are no new words to express this and the old ones are worn out, emptied of their meaning. Truly, we do not know what to say anymore. We can only stutter. What can I say about how I feel, if like today, I saw 40 children being decapitated? Or yesterday [someone] playing football with a child’s head? Or in the showers, there where they used to disinfect us and I saw hundreds of freezing children to be “defrosted” so that they could be used for scientific experiments, there in the Germany of Thomas Mann?

What can I say when I think that a woman, Gina Smiatichova, who had been in concentration camps like me, one of my people, of my age, was killed in this savage massacre, in the promised land of Israel? I can try to imagine what it must have been like for her, who had miraculously dodged death in German camps and believed she had finally found protection, a home, in the land of my ancestors just as my mother used to say: “When we will have our land which was promised by God, you will see, my daughter. Sleep, sleep…”. My mother used to repeat this lullaby to make me fall asleep because there was nothing to eat for dinner. She would say: “You will see that one day we will be in the promised land where everyone will help everyone. They will welcome one another, they will embrace one another and there will be no more of this hatred, anti-Semitism”. And I thought that that would be paradise. Instead, this “sister” of mine finally arrived in Israel and was killed there. A joke, what else can one say? A bitter irony of fate, double the suffering.

But there are no lives that are less valuable. Can one say which life is to be thrown away? None. Life is precious to anyone and you understand the value of life, such as the value of bread, when you find yourself in situations like concentration camps, when in order to live, you hold on to everything, to an insignificant thing, to a hair, because life is stronger than everything. One wants to live in all possible conditions and as Primo Levi said, we become the custodians of our life. But every killing is a tragedy because it is the action of man against man.

It seems that mankind never learns anything because it is still incapable of welcoming others, embracing others. I don’t know, it is as if mankind hates itself, wants to punish itself. There is a hatred towards itself, a self-destruction. It must be ancestral. There is something that does not work well in mankind.

I remember I used to cry, when at the age of eight, I used to see fragile people being mistreated by others (for example people who had physical defects) because ever since I was a little girl the suffering of others caused me suffering and I used to ask my Mom: “Why are people so mean?” And she would say: “My daughter when a tree grows crooked, how can you straighten it?

And yet, despite everything, I think that there is some good in the hearts of people and this is what should be cultivated and nourished.

Edith Bruck