Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Durbin Maelstrom

Unlike others on the right side of the blogosphere, I find myself unable to get very worked up about this, but that won't stop me from throwing in my two cents. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin's comparison of prisoner treatment at "Club Gitmo" to that of the Nazi's, the Soviets, and Pol Pot is absurd, of course (see Hewitt for fitting indignation and a bunch of links). I find it unlikely that he is ignorant of the histories of butchery of the regimes he mentioned, so either he believes what he is saying, or he is using a rhetorical device to score a point in the twisted impasse that passes for political debate these days. His head fake with a non-apology apology indicates the latter, in which case it becomes too easy for his defenders to say, " Well of course Sen. Durbin doesn't think the US is unjustly killing millions of people." That doesn't fly. The "torture" allegations are isolated cases, so let's play moral equivalency charades and look at an isolated case of how the Nazi's treated one man, as recorded in the sworn testimonials of former inmates of a concentration camp:

Tadeusz Joachimowski, clerk of Block 14A: "In the summer of 1941, most probably on the last day of July, the camp siren announced that there had been an escape. At the evening roll-call of the same day we, i.e., Block 14A, were formed up in the street between the buildings of Blocks 14 and 17. After some delay we were joined by a group of the Landwirtschafts-Kommando. During the count it was found that three prisoners from this Kommando had escaped: one from our Block and the two others from other Blocks. Lagerfuhrer Fritzsch announced that on account of the escape of the three prisoners, ten prisoners would be picked in reprisal from the blocks in which the fugitives had lived and would be assigned to the Bunker (the underground starvation cell)"

Jan Jakub Zegidewicz takes up the story from there: "After the group of doomed men had already been selected, a prisoner stepped out from the ranks of one of the Blocks. I recognized [Prisoner 16670]. Owing to my poor knowledge of German I did not understand what they talked about, nor do I remember whether [Prisoner 16670] spoke directly to Fritzsch. When making his request, [Prisoner 16670] stood at attention and pointed at a former non-commissioned officer known to me from the camp. It could be inferred from the expression on Fritzsch's face that he was surprised at [Prisoner 16670's] action. As the sign was given, [Prisoner 16670] joined the ranks of the doomed and the non-commissioned officer left the ranks of the doomed. Fritzsch had consented to the exchange. A little later, the doomed men were marched off in the direction of Block 13, the death Block."

The non-commissioned officer was Franciszek Gajowniczek. When the sentence of doom had been pronounced, Gajowniczek had cried out in despair, "Oh, my poor wife, my poor children. I shall never see them again." It was then that the unexpected had happened, and that from among the ranks of those temporarily reprieved, [P]risoner 16670 had stepped forward and offered himself in the other man's place. Then the ten condemned men were led off to the dreaded Bunker, to the airless underground cells were men died slowly without food or water.

Bruno Borgowiec was an eyewitness of those last terrible days, for he was an assistant to the janitor and an interpreter in the underground Bunkers. He tells us what happened: "In the cell of the poor wretches there were daily loud prayers, the rosary and singing, in which prisnoers from neighbouring cells also joined. When no SS men were in the Block, I went to the Bunker to talk to the men and comfort them. Fervent prayers and songs to the Holy Mother resounded in all the corridors of the Bunker. I had the impression I was in a church. [Prisoner 16670] was leading and the prisoners responded in unison. They were often so deep in prayer that they did not even hear that inspecting SS men had descended to the Bunker; and the voices fell silent only at the loud yelling of their visitors. When the cells were opened the poor wretches cried loudly and begged for a piece of bread and for water, which they did not receive, however. If any of the stronger ones approached the door he was immediately kicked in the stomach by the SS men, so that falling backwards on the cement floor he was instantly killed; or he was shot to death ... [Prisoner 16670] bore up bravely, he did not beg and did not complain but raised the spirits of the others. ...Since they had grown very weak, prayers were now only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, [Prisoner 16670] was seen kneeling or standing in the centre as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men. Two weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another they died, until only [Prisoner 16670] was left. This the authorities felt was too long; the cell was needed for new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the sickquarters, a German, a common criminal named Bock, who gave [Prisoner 16670] an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. [Prisoner 16670], with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch this I left under the pretext of work to be done. Immediately after the SS men with the executioner had left I returned to the cell, where I found [Prisoner 16670] leaning in a sitting position against the back wall with his eyes open and his head dropping sideways. His face was calm and radiant."
Many readers will recognize the story of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe (cap tip: Just to be clear, the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are not saints, and they are treated nothing like this.

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