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Barbara Coloroso has done exemplary work in writing “Extraordinary Evil – A Brief History of Genocide”.   Second time around on this book, now going low and slow to really get down with the text and understand what she is saying.  I wanted to share some of the passages that resonated with me.

A Jewish officer in the US Army during World War II, Lieutenant Meyer Birnbaum wrote about a young Jewish boy he found near death in Ohrdruff, a concentration camp annexed to Buchenwald.  The young boy requested bread and then broke down sobbing as he spoke of his murdered family:

After about fifteen minuets of bitter sobbing, the sixteen-year-old boy suddenly looked at me and asked whether I could teach him how to do teshuvah [repent].  I was taken aback by his question and tried to comfort him.  “After the stretch in hell you’ve been through, you don’t need worry about doing teshuvah.  Your slate is clean.  Your slate is clean.  You’re alive, and you have to get a hold of yourself and stop worrying about doing teshuvah,” I told him.  But my words had no effect.  I could not convince him.  He kept insisting: “Ich vill tuhn teshuvah – I want to do teshuvahIch muz tuhn teshuva – I must do teshuvah.”

Finally, I asked him, “Why must you do teshuvah?” in the hope that talking would enable him to let go of some of the pain I saw in his eyes.  He pointed out the window and asked if I saw the gallows.  Satisfied that I did, he began his story:

“Two months ago one of the prisoners escaped…the camp commandant was furious about the escape and demanded to know the identify of the escaped prisoner.  No one could provide him with the information he was seeking… In his fury, the commandant decided to play a sadistic game with us.  He demanded that any pairs of brothers, or fathers and sons, step forward.  We were terrified of what he might do if we did not comply.  My father and I step forward.

They placed my father on a stool under those gallows and tied a noose around my father’s neck, the commandant cocked his Luger, placed it at my temple, and hissed, “If you or your father doesn’t tell me who escaped, you are going to kick that stool out from under your father.”  I looked at my father and told him, “Zorgst sich nit – Don’t worry, Tatte, I won’t do it.”  But my father answered me, “My son, you have to do it.  He’s got a gun to your head and he’s going to kill you if you don’t, and then he will kick the chair out from under me and we’ll both be gone.  This way at least there’s a chance you’ll survive.  But if you don’t, we’ll both be killed.”

Tatte, nein, ich vell dos nit tuhn – I will not do it.  Ich hab nit fargessen kibbud av – I didn’t forget kibbud av [honouring one’s father].”

Instead of being comforted by words, my father suddenly screamed at me: “You talk about kibbud av, I’m ordering you to kick that stool.  That is your father’s command.”

 

Nein, Tatte, nein – No, father, I won’t.

But my father only got angrier, know that if I didn’t obey he would see his son murdered in front of him.  “You talk about kibbud av v’eim [honouring one’s father and mother],” he shouted.  “This is your father’s last order to you.  Listen to me! Kick the chair!”

I was so frightened and confused hearing my father screaming at me that I kicked the chair and watched as my father’s neck snapped in the noose.

 

His story over, the boy looked at me… as my own tears flowed freely, and asked, “Now, you tell me.  Do I have to do teshuvah?”

 

Barbara Coloroso. Extraordinary Evil – A Brief History of Genocide. pp. 93 – 95.

 

 

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