Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sonderkommando: A modern rendition

In the throes of WWII, an arm of the nazi regime was created called the Sonderkommando. This group of individuals were prime specimens for the work that they were tasked to do. They were handpicked by the Nazi command because of their stature, strength and traits often reflected on other groups of enforcers such as the Gestapo and of course the Totenkopf (Death’s Head) Division of the SS. They were steely in their work and the execution of their duties was documented to be highly efficient and notoriously cruel – true Nazis. Howver what you might not know is these infamous arms of the Nazi regime were not Germans, Poles, Ukrainian or Italian: they were Jews. 

The Sonderkommando executed inhuman acts on their own people. Their motive? To stay alive. To gain approval from their Nazi captors and to live for one more day. These were the ones who met the people coming in off the trains directly to file them into the gas chambers while the prison orchestra played light and happy tunes on the sod that covered the chambers. These were the ones who told the people to hang their clothes on hooks and remember the number on the hook so they could find them later after they had been ‘processed’. These were the ones who donned their gas masks and loaded the dead bodies onto the garrets and transported the dead to the furnaces. These were the ones who filed through all the items of the dead collected off the hooks.

These were the ones who shoved the naked, dead bodies of the people into the ever burning hot white furnaces. They breathed the smoke of their own people and were covered in their ash. 

These were the ones who loaded the ash from the furnaces and spread it out on fields to cover the dark acts of which they were involved.

Why is this relevant for this blog on the subject of dysfunctional groups? It is not from the perch leadership of such groups operate, it is in the trenches through the chosen few: the Sonderkommandos. There is no direct contact or damage, only the edict and the choice of those who fulfill their wishes. It is a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, a son, a daughter. In the dark realms it is not the foreign but the familiar who closes the door of the chamber and listens to the hellish screams of loved ones gradually fading into the past into only memory. The reward is approval and to live another day in favor from their leader and some ethereal promise tinkling on the breeze of mournful winds that God is pleased. What really drives them is survival and fear. Fear that one day they will be trundled into the chamber by a friend, a colleague, a son, a daughter all the while spouting ‘all is well, we’ll see you in a moment but for now listen to our leader’. In the aftermath of such times, there are only bodies to be cleaned out, processed…and burned from memory. 

What haunts these Sonderkommandos is not the act itself but the time wasted in indecision due to fear. The frozen will that is checked that they may be the next to come before a tribunal and be swept from their place. What haunts them is the coming end. The world will not understand their actions just as much as those Jews who threw their own into the furnaces and buried their ash measured in tonnage. No, the pang felt is a future unsure and a sense of pending reckoning and finally judgment. Due to the treachery in which they partook, there is no respite. One cannot take back the acts done in the name of the leader and I am being kind here. Ultimately the acts performed were in the name of Christ of which is diametric to His heart and His intent. 

There is a story perhaps fable from the death camps. There was a young girl who survived the gas chamber and it was the Sonderkommandos that found her and tried to hide her. In an act of penance or the self-disgust or self-hate, they looked to her for their redemption back into the human race. When the German Commander found this girl, she was brought before them to witness The Sonderkommandos being shot one by one by those whom they served. It is said that during this ordeal, upon completion of the executions, the young girl saw her chance to run out of the gate and skip away. It was not to be, she was shot to death and taken, processed and burned by the new crop of Sonderkommandos. I cannot say what may have gone through her mind those last moments before death. All she wanted was to escape the madness and the twisted reality she had directly encountered. She was almost driven by the nature of self preservation to escape. This is what sped the encounter with death she would no doubt experience shortly. 

Some of us could no longer take the madness and the twisted reality so we ran, when we looked back who we saw holding the pistol was the face of a son, a daughter, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, a father, a mother. We were shot through the heart. It was these that carried us to be processed and burned from their memory.