Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.
In this issue
- This week: the Holocaust
- Virtual Snacks
- Bizarre Searches
- Quotation and joke
Dave and I have been reading Vikram Seth’s book, Two Lives. For those who haven’t read or heard about it, Two Lives is a biography about Seth’s great-uncle Shanti – referred to in the book as “Shanti Uncle” – and Shanti’s wife, Henny, who was a German Jew. The couple met when Shanti left India to study dentistry in Berlin in the early 1930s; he found lodgings with Henny’s mother, Ella Caro. Shanti had to leave Germany in 1936 to find work (the Nazis refused to allow him to work in dentistry even as a university professor’s assistant); but he and Henny met again in London in July 1939 when Henny’s employer (whose wife had been Jewish) helped her get out of Germany.
The book is a compelling read, and I’m reluctant to give away too much about it as that would spoil it for those of you who have yet to read it. But, as you might guess, there are some horrific passages describing the fate of Henny’s mother and her sister Lola, both of whom were unable to get out of Berlin before the outbreak of war. After being forced to give up their home and move to a far smaller flat in a block marked out for Jewish tenants, the two were “resettled”. In May 1943 Ella Caro – by now aged 71, and in poor health – was sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt in what’s now the Czech Republic; this was something of a “show camp” where a thin veneer of respectability was maintained for the benefit of Red Cross inspectors. In fact, the overcrowding, cruelly inadequate rations and insanitary conditions meant that many of the inmates soon died; Ella died five months after her deportation.
Lola Caro was sent to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. She apparently survived for a while as fit for slave labour – if she had had a child or been ill, she would have been sent straight to the gas chambers (if she hadn’t already died in the dreadful overcrowding of the cattle trucks that were used as transport). But before too long she would have been too weak to work. The book’s description of the gas chambers is remorseless in its matter-of-fact portrayal of the killings. I had always thought that the deaths were relatively rapid, with almost immediate loss of consciousness. In fact they took several minutes of gradual and agonising suffocation. Those victims who survived longest would claw their way over the bodies of the already dead in a vain attempt to reach breathable air.
There are many accounts of similar Nazi atrocities. Roman Polanski’s film, The Pianist (based on the autobiography of Polish virtuoso Wladyslaw Szpilman) contains several horrific scenes. But what makes them so horrific is not just the violence – shocking though that is – but the routine, casual, random way in which it’s perpetrated. There’s one particular scene where the work-team Szpilman’s in are made to halt, and a number of them are made to step forward and lie down before being shot through the head. At no point is any reason given for these killings, or why the people singled out have been chosen; it’s just random brutality.
But it’s also distressing to hear about what happened after the war in Germany. Many of Henny and Shanti’s former friends in Berlin were unwilling to face up to the fact that they had acquiesced in the persecution and murder of the Jews. Some even complained that they were suffering unjustly through the devastation of their country by the Allies, or not receiving the same welfare benefits as those few German Jews who had managed to survive the Nazis’ brutality. It’s as if the whole nation was in denial.
(On which subject, I was shocked to see – while searching for a relevant quotation for this week’s newsletter – just how prevalent the notion still is that the extermination camps and the gas chambers never actually existed. I knew there were one or two nutters around still peddling that myth – like David Irving, or the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke – but I never really expected there to be so many.)
This is not to single out the Germans. Sadly, there are plenty of other instances where one race or nation has persecuted or exterminated members of another. That includes the British, who were responsible for the extermination of native Tasmanians in the first half of the nineteenth century – to say nothing of the slave trade which brought so much wealth to Great Britain in the eighteenth century and so much misery to the peoples of western Africa. And the Germans at least have had the honesty to admit to their crimes; the Holocaust is a core part of the curriculum in their schools, and it’s a crime in Germany to deny that it took place.
Something to think about, perhaps, the next time you see an anti-German headline in The Sun or hear someone spouting about the benefits the Empire brought the world.
Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not ccomment and tell us?
Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:
Here’s a rather shocking story from 2002 about some white Tasmanians attempting to cash in on benefits for Aborigines.
[Obsolete content and links removed]
Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:
- pigeon sex parts
- images of oily rubber
- splinter of darkness
- blast the balls
- sex shop electrical
- in my perfect school
- continental cockroaches
- changing head of photo fun
- men tips for sex india masturbation
- nippy & nigel
Till next time…
Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine
“In Maidanek, Poland, there was only one place where the children were treated kindly: at the entrance to the gas chamber each one was handed a sweet.”
– Gideon Hausner, Israeli jurist, main prosecutor at Adolf Eichmann’s trial and Chairman of Yad Vashem (1915-1990)
(We normally like to include a joke on a similar theme to the newsletter itself. That’s obviously not appropriate this week, so we’ve chosen something totally different instead.)
Two Scots, Archie and Jock, are sitting in the pub discussing Jock’s forthcoming wedding.
“Och, it’s all going magic,” says Jock. “I’ve got everything organised already, the flowers, the church, the cars, the reception, the rings, the minister, even ma stag night.”
Archie nods approvingly.
“Hell, I’ve even bought a kilt to be married in,” continues Jock.
“A kilt?” asks Archie. “That’s braw, you’ll look pure smart in that. What’s the tartan?”
“Och,” says Jock, “I’d imagine she’ll just be in white.”