Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Vengeance (July 18)

I don't know where this anger in me is coming from, but I have been surprised in the last few days by how vengeful I can feel.

Some of it is coming out the current crisis in the Middle East, where I keep having to remind myself that most of the people in Lebanon and Gaza are not responsible for the rockets and attacks being launched from their territory.

But the vengeance I'm thinking of has been coming up in relation to events in German history. First in Wroclaw then in Dresden, I found myself withholding pity when reading about enormous German civilian casualties during the Second World War.

In Wroclaw, which used to be Breslau, I read how Hitler laid the foundations for the destruction of the city by demanding it be turned into a fortress against the Soviets. In January 1945, the civilian population was evacuated in the deep cold of winter, leading to about 100,000 civilians to die. All I kept thinking about, though, was the death marches leading out from Auschwitz at exactly the same time and all the Jewish prisoners dying in the same snow, only having to march in rags and wooden clogs, and being shot if they fell behind.

In Dresden, I read, of course, of the horrific Allied fire bombardment of February 1945, which utterly destroyed the historic inner city, as well as about 100,000 civilians. Last night, after a nice dinner in an italian restaurant off Theaterplatz that my mother recommended to me, I found the memorial to the central Dresden synagogue. A faded memorial barely visible on a small hill under a tree told of how the synagogue had been built around 1840, by the same architect who designed the Semperoper. The chief rabbi had been R. Zacharias Frankel, the same man who later led the first modern Jewish seminary, and who had hired Heinrich Graetz (on whom I wrote my dissertation) as its first professor. The synagogue was not destroyed in the firestorm of 1945, because it had already been put to the torch on Kristallnacht, 1938.

Just across the street, by the way, is the current Jewish community building and the new synagogue, built in 2000. The new synagogue looks like a stone square that has been twisted slightly, so the walls spiral outward counterclockwise. There are no windows.

I was thinking last night, again surprised at my initial reaction to the fire bombing -- served them right -- and my lack of sympathy for the tens of thousands of civilians burned to death as a result of deliberate Allied policy. Part of why I'm so surprised at my reaction is that I've never been one to be angry at Germans. I don't mentally ask myself when I meet a German, what his or her father or grandfather was doing during the war. So why this sudden thirst for vengeance?

The best I can think of is that while I don't hold the present generation guilty for their ancestors' crimes, I'm not willing (or able) to show sympathy for that same generation who suffered so much for allowing Hitler to come to power. On the one hand, I know that this suffering was not accidental, that Hitler intended to turn all of Germany into one vast personal funeral pyre in his own private G├Âtterdamerung, but at the same time, part of me wants to hold the victims personally accountable for at least part of their suffering. I don't think this is particularly rational on my part, but perhaps it's just human.

So today I spent the morning at the Zwinger museum in the Old Masters Gallery. I think I need to revise my earlier posts about my distaste for the baroque by conceding that there was more than one baroque, and that the northern baroque included many fine pieces of art and excellent artists, such as Rubens, Rembrandt, etc. I spent an enjoyable hour and a half wandering through the galleries of 17th and 18th century painting. Then I went downstairs and found that while the New Masters Gallery is closed until 2009 for complete remodeling, their collection of paintings by Die Br├╝cke, the formative group of German Expressionist art, was on display in a special exhibition. There were paintings by Nolde, Pechstein, Kokoschka ´-- it was great!

I didn't have much time left before I needed to head to the train station, but I did want to see some of the porcelain collection. I think I saw about 80% before I had to run out. I figured I had plenty of time to get back to my hotel, get my suitcases, and head to the trainstation. I reached the station a half hour before my train; more than enough time, I thought, to get my ticket and buy the paper. As it was, I barely made my train.

For reasons I cannot explain, it took nearly 30 minutes to buy my train ticket. I tried to use the automated machines, but they kept asking for my bahnkart information, and I had no idea what one was (I since learned this refers to a promotional program for rail users). So I was stuck in the slow moving line. There were four tellers open, but unlike all other train stations in Europe, where there are separate lines for information and for sales, here they are combined. That meant that two of the tellers were fully occupied with extended questions from just a few customers, while the rest of us prayed we would make our trains. I remember thinking that it was quicker and simpler in Poland!

I made it to a teller with five minutes to go. I made it to the platform just after the train arrived, and while I was still taking off my backpack in the compartment, the train pulled away. That's the closest I've come to missing a train. I thought perhaps the problem was a result of the construction at the station, but one of the people in the compartment said no, that this was a problem throughout Germany. I will need to plan ahead for next week.

I'm all settled in my hotel. No air conditioning, but it's a low floor on the interior, so I'm hoping it will be cool. Tomorrow the temperature is set to hit 36, so that will be the real test.

1 comment:

manny said...

Jeff, I find the seeds of my resentment about some things or people run very deep. I sometimes have to ponder why this person/people bother(s) me so, and I figure it may have something to do from a past life/lives. I am thoroughly enjoying your ramblings! Manny