‘Drifting towards great catastrophes’: premonitions from the 1930s

Featured‘Drifting towards great catastrophes’: premonitions from the 1930s

In the years of optimism we would read books and puzzle over why, in the heart of civilized Europe, people had happily abandoned democracy, believed fantastical lies, and stood by or enthusiastically joined in as those deemed to blame for the nation’s ills were murdered in their millions. In these dark days, and on this Holocaust Memorial Day, understanding is beginning to gnaw at our bones like an ague.

In times like these, the message of certain books I have read recently seems to illuminate a simple truth: that authoritarianism insinuates itself into peoples lives without drama, but with a kind of quotidinian ordinariness that slowly dispenses with facts. Continue reading “‘Drifting towards great catastrophes’: premonitions from the 1930s”

Auschwitz: there was no why there

Auschwitz: there was no why there

In his memoir If This Is a Man, Primo Levi recalled his first adjustments to the Auschwitz regime with a sort of wry irony, telling how he asked a prisoner already experienced in the ways of the camp whether the guards would give them back their toothbrushes. Contemptuously, the prisoner replies: ‘You are not at home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney’. When Levi, thirsty, breaks off an icicle, it is brutally snatched away by a guard who, on being asked ‘Why?’ replies, ‘There is no why here’. Continue reading “Auschwitz: there was no why there”