The disintegration of memory

By Daniel Holz | April 3, 2010 8:35 pm

Given that it’s Easter Sunday, I thought it would be particularly appropriate to mention survivors of the Holocaust. Sean has been arguing (here and here) that science does not give us morality. And, as the Pope and the Catholic Church have resoundingly demonstrated, God doesn’t seem to provide us with morality either. None of this means that we shouldn’t strive to make the world a better place. Nor that we can’t say that the Holocaust was evil.

Maciek Nabrdalik has been photographing survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Nabrdalik is quoted in a New York Times blog: “I believe that by looking into their eyes, a sharper perspective will appear and perhaps help us understand the nature of the enormity of this atrocity a little bit better,” Mr. Nabrdalik said. “Understand it on a human scale, that is.”

The photographs show only shining faces, surrounded by an encroaching blackness. Perhaps the blackness represents the horrors they have experienced. Perhaps the blackness represents the fact that the number of survivors is dwindling, and soon there’ll be no one left to remind us of one of the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man. All that will be left is darkness.

by Primo Levi (Holocaust survivor)

You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

  • Shadow

    That’s a very haunting bit of poetry there.

  • Albert Bakker

    Morality is a verb.

  • joe

    We should always remember the terrible tragedies of the Holocaust but why with the anti-religion, anti-Catholic introduction? It feels like you’re trying to get back at Easter by presenting the Holocaust as an alternative humanist cause… I don’t think anyone, religion or no, would agree.

  • Lab Lemming

    “soon there’ll be no one left to remind us of one of the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man. ”

    Don’t worry about that. Even when the last holocaust survivor dies, there will still be survivors from Siberia, from the great leap forward, from Cambodia, Darfur, Eastern Congo. And from whatever the next mass murder will be. 67 years later, humans are still torturing and killing on a shocking and horrible scale.

    If we are not willing to stop current and future atrocities, what is the value of remembering the past ones?

  • Joseph

    Show people visual evidence and they’ll wake up. Think of the pictures taken as the concentration camps were liberated, or the much more recent photos from Abu Ghraib. I hold out hope that as digital media become more pervasive, it will become harder to keep any crime hidden.

    By the way, the Pope strives to make the world a better place.

  • agnostic

    There are still many places in the world where the catholic church is still the only source for relief for the poor due to the ineptness of civil institutions, even in our own country there are millions of people who are otherwise rejected from assistance by government programs who turn to the church for at least some relief. I think the media in particular needs to understand the consequences of their actions, and realize that they have a responsibility to bring some level of reason back to their rhetoric. We only need to look back as far as 1994 in Rwanda to find evidence of the power the media can have on the masses.

    People need to understand that the “abomination of desolation” often referenced in the book of revelations was referring to hopelessness. Hope is an essential component to human lives and it is pure evil to take hope from people. I wish on this day amongst all others people would give the gift of hope, and I hope we all have a good day.

  • Non-Believer

    It would be best to use the correct words.
    Saying God doesn’t give us morality and then using the catholic church as an example is not quite accurate.
    The Catholic Church is a religion. It is a human organization with the purpose of worship.
    God is defined as an entity and is defined differently by every religion. Arguably by every human being.
    Those various religious organizations have put into words a certain level of moral code.
    The “sins” of the catholic church doesn’t change the fact that the bible does in fact hold a set of morals, whether you believe in them or not. And even the wishy-washy attitude of the pope is nothing more than the action of a human.
    I would agree that morality is probably deeper than religion and probably existed before religion. I would also say that morality is a fluid construct of culture and situation.
    Your introduction lacked poignancy because you threw it out there without thinking about it. Making statements that have no substance merely because they denigrate the “bad guys” is not going to do anything but undermine you own cause.

  • someone

    I don´t like at all the catholic religion, but its a “bad” sentence of yours… suppose there are some physiscists that are serial killers… would you judge all the physics because of that ?

    Regarding the photographs, its an interesting approach, but perhaps after some dozen they will look repetitive.

  • Mike

    As those scientists who fudge their data have resoundingly demonstrated, Science doesn’t seem to provide us with respect for truth either. As those judges who have taken bribes demonstrate, rule by law does not provide justice. As Daniel has resoundingly demonstrated, scientists do not provide us with logic.

  • Sili



  • SpeakerToManagers

    It’s at least as important to remember the atrocities committed on those who are not of your own people as on those who are. I am an American Jew who grew up after the Holocaust and took seriously the battlecry, “Never Again” as a statement that this sort of evil would not ever be allowed to happen again to anybody. Well, it’s happened at least 3 times since, as those who remembered debated the meaning of “genocide” or the “wisdom” of acting, and those who didn’t remember didn’t notice. I think that anything that breaks through the forgetfulness and apathy is a good thing. And if you are bothered by the repetitiveness of the photographs, contemplate the repetitiveness of the atrocities.

  • daniel

    Religions, unlike science, often claim that one of their most important contributions to humanity is “morality”. The Catholic Church, with over 1 billion followers worldwide, is no exception. Priests committed pedophilia, and the Pope refused to intervene, thereby aiding and abetting further pedophilia (which, for many people, is among the most morally reprehensible actions imaginable). These men are the paragons of their religion, the true followers of their God. One thing is clear: their belief in God does not make them more moral. Actions, not words, are what matter. Regardless, the commenters are right that the two sentences about morality distract from the main message of this post. From Elie Wiesel (another Holocaust survivor): “Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.”

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  • another

    Without denying the horror of what happened to Mr. Levi or the importance of remembering the depths of inhumanity possible in man, the final stanza of “Shema” has the structure of a curse in the classical sense and I don’t hold with people who use threats (real or karmic) to get people to do what they want regardless of how good the cause is. It’s a poor poem and a poor choice of poem.

  • Rohan Mehra – Chocolate Films

    Good article. I think remembrance is more important than people may realise.
    I made a film last year to highlight the importance of remembering the Holocaust, narrated by Daniel Radcliffe.

    Sorry to blag on the blog but it seemed relevant and interesting.

  • Mike

    daniel continues the distraction with: “These men are the paragons of their religion, the true followers of their God.”

    Wouldn’t this be more accurate?: “These men are high status individuals in positions of power in the church organization whose atrocities in no way reflect, define, or uphold the moral principles held by the religion.”

    Why judge a religion by the actions of those who don’t follow it?

    If a president dishonors his vow to uphold the constitution, does that besmirch the constitution?

  • spyder

    67 years later, humans are still torturing and killing on a shocking and horrible scale.

    And for a long, long, long term perspective, go visit a reservation near you; it continues to this day.

    Mike, i suspect he was referring to not just the high status, but the actual infallible head of the Church. The pope gets to make all the calls, including theological constructs, anytime he feels so inclined (and that also includes fiddling with the moral principles upon which the church is based). Apparently, this pope thinks that he is free from any criticism. You comparison doesn’t fit.

  • Mike

    Spyder. If that’s what he meant then we are on common ground at least for the Pope’s part. What more is needed to prove fallibility?

  • Sili

    Why judge a religion by the actions of those who don’t follow it?

    That’s the first time I’ve seen “Is the Pope Catholic?” answered in the negative.


    The Pope is the Vicar of Christ. What reason do we have not to believe him?

  • Human

    I am not christain, but I really feel offended to find that it is a christian feast and many people keep attacking and remind them how your faith is not logical and how bad is your belief.
    Shouldn’t we wait for another proper time to do that?
    They are waiting for people to congratulate them, not to laugh at their belief!
    Christains are our human fellows and we shoudn’t hurt their feelings in their celebration day.

  • Human

    I want to point out some point, that the belief in the existence of God,
    means the belief in a an intelligent designer, which doesn’t needed to be realized from religion.It is realized by mind and by logic. Religions could give different names to God, different concepts and different rituals. But still all believers believe that there is an intelligent power governs the universe and existence.

    In general , morality is connected to God, not to false ideolgies or bad believers.
    Trying to prove that God doesn’t exist beacuse the leaders of believers (who call for morals) are bad, is a wrong logic.

  • Human

    The best remembrance for the Holocaust is to remembr and help people who still suffer till now.
    There are a lot of people in different places in the world who suffers from poverty, natural disasters, wars and the injustice of the world towards them.
    Not to many help them or try to remove the reasons of their suffering.

    I really fail to see humans had really learnt the lesson of Holocaust. Injustics, persecution,…. still exists.
    Holocaust should remain as a guide not just a memory.
    I think the people who die everyday from injustice,lackness of mercy and love will always remind us with the inhumanity of some humans.
    Sufferness is immortal journey in our world.

  • Ian


    I appreciate this is a difficult subject to cover, and certainly in the context of the abuse of, may I point out, a minority of priests against minors. But your statement “Religions, unlike science, often claim that one of their most important contributions to humanity is “morality”. The Catholic Church, with over 1 billion followers worldwide, is no exception. ” Is not correct. Nowhere in the Catechism of the Catholic Church does it say that the Church provides an example of morality – rather it’s teachings do, and as we all know humanity has a genius for dissent regardless of how wonderful the teaching is. Jesus even knew this when he told his disciples to do whatever the Pharisees taught, but do not do what they did.

    If the people of the Church claim a moral high-ground then why do they celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation … even the Pope goes to confession.

    But here’s the bug in all of this. In respect of the abuse uncovered in America, the John Jay report highlighted that the source of the abuse lay in the secular selection techniques employed by the seminaries (under pressure from the secular world). The majority of the abuse, whilst including that of pre-pubescent children, was enacted on post-pubescent children. This has it’s roots in homosexuality.

    This is an inconvenient truth that must be addressed and any cover up must be dealt with by the authorities.

  • RHill

    Morality is simply the “propagate your species” basic instinct package all animals are born with … amplified, complicated and confused by human intellect, ignorance and fear. We seem doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past whether we remember them or not. Maybe the quality of life could be higher without constantly dragging such a heavy burdon of guilt. Religion was mankind’s attempt to make sense of all this, science brought new tools to the game … both are regrettable hobbled and made imperfect by the inherent fallibility of us humans. As for the “infallibility of the Pope” I thought that the pope that made that declaration was determined insane and lost his little statue at the Vatican.

  • Albert Bakker

    23# – So to sum it all up: the pope is not exactly entirely catholic, it wasn’t really pedophilia because many children had already reached puberty by the time they were victimized and besides – leaving the realm of ambiguity now – it’s all the fault of homosexuals and non-believers. Yeah, that sounds pretty moral. I’ll buy that.

    Oh wait no..

  • steeleweed

    Go through Yad Vashem. If you don’t feel like Godzilla has ripped out your guts, you are not part of any race I want to belong to. (And I’m not Jewish. The tragedy of the Holocaust is not that millions died. It is that murder was committed millions of times.

  • Mike

    To beat a dead horse, I have reduced the problem to a poem. This poem is not likely to sell, if for no other reason than, … well, it sucks.

    Fallen Man
    The fitness function changes constantly
    of every form and every function built.
    The goal of evolution’s search must flee
    to new behaviors as the old ones wilt.

    It used to serve one well to rape and slay
    to lie and steal the means to procreate,
    but when cooperation won the day,
    a gang ID and status bought a mate.

    But status brought us arrogance and pride
    and status competition led to war
    while group on group their opposites deride
    as kin, race, land, and language keep the score.

    We strive to face this evil deep within.
    What used to serve us now is known as sin,
    for Darwin’s trap still firmly holds us in.

    Michael Shantz

  • Albert Bakker

    #26 – I’ve been to a couple of WWII concentration camps or what is still left of it myself, I stood on the very soil where it all really happened and I was fully conscious of that history. I promise you when you are there you will be very quiet with anybody and everything else.

    However the lesson I think you should learn is not that the Holocaust is the ultimate evil that is unique, focus on it in detail with your back turned on present atrocities. In a sense that renders that history neutral and reduces it to stuff that gathers dust in museums as one day it will seize to be remembered by the people who were there and another day it will seize to be politically exploitable to morally legitimize the oppression of another people.

    To quote Howard Zinn: “..the memory of the Jewish Holocaust should not be circled by barbed wire, morally ghettoized, kept isolated from other atrocities in history. To remember what happened to the six million Jews serves no important purpose unless it arouses indignation, anger, action against all atrocities, anywhere in the world.”

  • Phillip Helbig

    “Given that it’s Easter Sunday, I thought it would be particularly appropriate to mention survivors of the Holocaust.”

    What is the connection?

  • daniel

    @Phillip Helbig (#29). Easter marks the day Christ was resurrected. Survivors of the Holocaust were, in some sense, brought back from the dead.

  • thomas

    I see your Holocaust and raise you an Operation Cast Lead

  • Daniella

    thomas, you shouldn’t say that. your saying in itself is evil. why? because there’s no comparison at all – and if you mistakenly think there is, then you’re inciting hatred against israel and jewish people by using false facts and false slogans – exactly the method of nazi and other racists movements. should learn your facts before commenting.

  • Human

    I think the following is the best to do to Holocaust victims
    Holocaust Survivor Explains Why She’s A Palestinian Rights Advocate

    How many of us can do like her?
    The unjustice she had sufferd had learnt her, love, mercy and justice to all other humans.


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