“He who forgets history, will live to repeat it.” George Santayana
There’s a theory somewhere that Hitler wanted to be an artist. He joined an Art class and got interested in a young one beside him but she ran off with the teacher. The teacher was a Jew and they reckon Hitler never got over it. And that’s part of why he did Auschwitz and Birkenau. We got there around lunch time. Off the bus from Krakow. It was quiet and sunny but there was no birds singing. The place had about it a precise efficiency. All the barbwire fences were lined in long horizontal rows, the same width apart, and fastened to poles the same height. Someone had gone to the trouble of making sure it all made precise mathematical sense. Inside the camp, you can find the “Extermination Rooms” used to expose the victims to xyklon B gas. Up until the moment the gas was released, the majority of victims thought they were going for a shower. Some of them even walked in with a bar of soap in their hands. The plan was so well organized that the Nazis even convinced the Jews to buy their own train tickets to the camp. They were told they were being “relocated.”
Towards the outskirts of the prison, you’ll find the crematoriums. These were erected when the population of the camps became too many and Hitler decided on the “Final solution” – to rid Europe of all its Jews. At night, as the other prisoners tried to sleep in the packed sheds, they almost choked at the smell of burning flesh coming from the hills. The crematoriums have now been destroyed, not by the liberators, but the Nazis themselves. When they knew the war was over, they wanted to cover up all the evidence around the camp, but they didn’t do a good job. Take for example the room full of shoes, stripped from each prisoner as they entered the camp. Every pair was sent back to Germany and recycled for things like tires. Another room is piled with suitcases, each bearing the name of the doomed arrival. Usually, it was written in a kind of chalk, or paint. The name was inscribed on top and underneath was the address and date of birth. They were afraid their stuff might get lost when they got to their newly promised safe location.
A third room displays a pile of spectacles, again taken from each victim. A fourth is the hair. Everyone’s head was shaved and their hair was sent back to the mainland to make clothes and rugs and other assorted luxuries. Most of the money, jewelery, and anything else of value was intercepted by high-ranking officers, living with their families in Poland.
Before anyone was cremated, their mouths were searched for gold teeth. Generally the old, children under sixteen, the disabled, and all pregnant women were gassed immediately. It was thought they were too useless to do any meaningful work. (The pregnant women that weren’t killed were allowed to go into labour and then their legs were tied together with wire.) As every other prisoner became unable to go on, they too were murdered. Every day, as the survivors came through the gates of the camp, there was a German caption overhead that read: “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work will set you free.)
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Review of El Niño.
El Niño is the exciting debut novel from Mayo man, Mick Donnellan. Slick, stylish and always entertaining, the story is a rollercoaster of drama and tension that hasn’t been seen in Irish fiction for a very long time. Charlie is our protagonist, the pick pocket that steals El Nino’s wallet and then falls in love with her. She’s the wild femme fatale, beautiful; enigmatic and seductive. Her father named her El Niño because the night she was born there was a storm, and he said it signified the way she was to live her life. And right he was. She rocks Charlie’s world with her smoky wiles and drinking ways and her tough chick ideals. This is Noir at its best. Dark and edgy with crisp fresh dialogue and a plot that engages the reader from the first line and keeps him up all night – right through to it’s powerful finish.