Suffering Worse Than Death

 Posted by on 17 January 2014 at 10:00 am  History, Holocaust, Medicine
Jan 172014

A while back, I had to look up the spelling of Dr. Mengele’s name, and as a result, I came across this horrifying article: Why One Auschwitz Survivor Avoided Doctors for 65 Years.

The transport to Auschwitz took two weeks. His sick father died on the journey. Upon arrival, they had to strip and submit to an inspection. Ganon’s mother and five siblings were then sent to the gas chambers.

Yitzhak Ganon was taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau hospital, where Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death,” conducted grisly experiments on Jewish prisoners.

Ganon had to lie down on a table and was tied down. Without any anesthetics, Mengele cut him open and removed his kidney. “I saw the kidney pulsing in his hand and cried like a crazy man,” Ganon says. “I screamed the ‘Shema Yisrael.’ I begged for death, to stop the suffering.”

After the “operation,” he had to work in the Auschwitz sewing room without painkillers. Among other things, he had to clean bloody medical instruments. Once, he had to spend the whole night in a bath of ice-cold water because Mengele wanted to “test” his lung function. Altogether, Ganon spent six and a half months in the concentration camp’s hospital.

Although I read a slew of books on the Holocaust last year, I avoided reading about the gruesome experiments of Nazi doctors. For someone to deliberately inflict suffering worse than death on innocent people, including children. As much as I want to recognize the historical facts and honor the victims, it’s far, far too horrifying imagine.

The Holocaust, Everywhere

 Posted by on 18 March 2013 at 12:40 pm  Ethics, Holocaust, Politics, World War 2
Mar 182013

The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking:

Thirteen years ago, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began the grim task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe.

The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.

The knowledge of these camps is not merely important to fill out the historical record. The existence of so many camps calls into doubt the claims made by so many Germans after the war that they were ignorant of what the monstrous evils of the Third Reich:

Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”

In my readings on the Holocaust, survivors and soldiers often report that the Nazis suddenly vanished after Germany’s surrender: everyone claimed that they were secretly opposed to the Nazis, even long-time party members. Yeah, right. Based on what I’ve read, the Germans (and the peoples of occupied nations) had ample reason to believe that Germany was inflicting terrible evils on some people, particularly the Jews. They might not have known the particulars, but if they didn’t imagine something abysmal, that’s only because they refused to think about such unpleasant matters, time and again.

However, based on this new research, perhaps the Germans (and others) were not even as ignorant of those particulars as we might have imagined. The evasion of one person can be dangerous, if not deadly. The mass evasion of a whole people… nothing good will ever come from that.

Some Political Advice

 Posted by on 14 January 2013 at 10:00 am  Ethics, Evil, Holocaust, Politics
Jan 142013

If your political program requires you to ask questions such as:

How can we most efficiently kill these people?

How can we muffle the sounds of their screams?

How can we dispose of so many bodies?

Then let me break this to you gently… YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG, &$#!@*%&.

That thought was brought to you by this chilling documentary: Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State.

Oct 232012

In last Friday’s Philosophy in Action Newsletter, I recommended three books on the Holocaust that I’ve read recently. I thought I’d post those recommendations here, with a reminder that you can get the special offer of a free 30-day trial subscription with Audible at

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading — or rather, listening to — books on the Third Reich and the Holocaust.  I’m particularly interested in personal narratives: I want to know what it was like to live through that inhuman era, including the warning signs available to ordinary people of the coming disaster.

It’s difficult but rewarding reading.  I’m not just acquiring knowledge: I’m honoring the victims of the Third Reich by listening to their stories.

Here, I’ll just recommend three books:

Life and Death in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche (Amazon & Audible)

I’d strongly recommend this book as a from-the-ground overview of the Holocaust.  It focuses on people’s experiences of the Third Reich — drawing heavily on letters and journals — against the background of major political and military events.  It’s also an excellent intellectual history: it looks deeply at the ideology and goals of the Nazis, in order to make sense of their actions.  (Thanks to this book, I understand that so much better than ever before now.)  It includes thoughtful discussions of the moral culpability of ordinary Germans too.

Night by Elie Wiesel (Amazon and Audible

This was a painfully poetic personal narrative — and it’s a classic for good reason.  It’s short, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust by Lyn Smith (Amazon and Audible)

I just finished listening to this book yesterday morning.  It consists of small stories told by Holocaust survivors, organized chronologically and topically, with the narrator providing an overarching context.  In the audiobook, the stories are just segments of the interviews, and they’re often so much more emotionally moving as a result.  I couldn’t stop listening.

Except on occasion, I won’t be replicating these tidbits from the Newsletter blog posts or elsewhere, so if you’d like to see it, be sure to subscribe. By doing so, you’ll receive weekly announcements of upcoming broadcasts, posted podcasts, and exclusive tidbits of advice.

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