13 Dec Reportage – Auschwitz: evil, memory and 21st century
“[…] philosophers sometimes write with an over-confidence which betrays that they have not experienced the human reality of the dilemmas. The same must be true many times over of someone who, without having experienced them, writes of Vietnam or Auschwitz.”
If one takes an interest in or applies himself to the study of philosophy in a broad sense, he is bound to go through some dark times. Forehead corrugated into a distraught frown, one goes about silently cursing that dostoevskian man rotting in the underground or that Kurtz, whispering ‘The horror, the horror!’ with feverishly glaring eyes. There is sense of despair looming and a brooding angst more or less painful depending on personal circumstances or, in my case, whether or not the sea is in sight. Generally, there seems to be a great deal of suffering in the world and a taste for abstract reflection engenders a tendency to judge it a trans-historical and trans-cultural phenomenon. With a dear friend, we came to label the source of this angst ‘the human condition’. Is it not natural, then, to ask oneself: are things getting any better, or is humanity ‘sinking into a new form of barbarism’?
With XX century history behind them, contemporary Europeans will probably find less motivation to answer the above question optimistically than their great-grandfathers did before World War I broke out. Perhaps to posit that such judgement may be formulated at all is to misunderstand reality altogether or to subscribe to a philosophy of history which is as problematic as it is pivotal to our modern belief in human progress. As Marco Crupi and I the paced the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau we wondered whether man will ever be delivered from the dark side of its nature, whether ‘the horror’ would ever penetrate deep enough into the souls of all those tourists on the camp on that cold November day in 2012 or whether we can be so banally evil that to presume some sort of ‘redemption’ of us as individuals or as a species is utterly ridiculous.
Whilst the sun shone on Auschwitz, the note in my diary sombrely reads:
“Nowhere outside the walls and the barbed wire of Auschwitz-Birkenau has mankind offered a more compelling display of its true nature. Perhaps all the toilsomeness of existence derives from the attempt to remain sane and reasonable twenty, forty years longer, to conceal all of our sordidness, atrocity and absurdity, to have our children believe there cannot be another Auschwitz.”