Reality V. Fiction

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Mark Twain

While we were on our trip to Washington DC there was one museum my son really wanted to go see, but I had been told it was very difficult to get into, so we left it off the itinerary. It was only when I made a remark to a friend who lives there that I discovered it was no longer timed, ticketed, and waiting-room-only to see the Holocaust Museum. So, as the final stop while in the city, that was our choice. It’s difficult to describe it, so I’m not going to entirely try. Suffice it to say that in a city where we saw several museums out of the lifetime’s worth you could see, this was the one that was hushed, beautiful in design, and utterly austere in message. Humanity is capable of the divine, and the most terrible things we can see on the face of this earth and beyond. Fiction writers can try to encapsulate evil in their villains, but nothing touches reality. Nor, perhaps, should we even try.

A pile of verboten books, in front of an image of burning books.

Of the many reasons to read and write historical fiction, perhaps this is paramount: we must never forget. As I wrote on my blog earlier this week, if we allow those who choose to deliberately erase history to succeed in their endeavours, we invite horrors unimagined to return into our world. Because if it is not recorded, did it really happen? Part of the reason the Holocaust Museum exists in all it’s tragic glory is that the Nazis recorded their own deeds in painful, excruciating detail. A man died this week, and in the wake of his passing, the media seeks to lionize him. They speak fictions, because there is little record of the true atrocities he inflicted on his people and those he deemed inhuman. What is not written down can be denied and will pass from the rolls of the world into the realms of legend. Few remember and can speak truth, but perhaps in their words we can find sufficient record of the reality to counteract the glossy spin job the mainstream media are giving a dead monster.

And so we come back to Twain, and a modern-day master of wordcraft, Lawdog.

“I have never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” –Mark Twain

Robert Mugabe is dead.

Sod that quote for a game of soldiers.

Robert Mugabe,

You were a degenerate, fathered by a rabid cane-rat upon a syphilitic warthog; whose only genuine claim to fame is not having the common decency to catch a bullet with your face in 1975.
You took the gukurahundi, and you gave the rain blades, and hate, and fire, then you set it loose in Matebe-land. 80 000 Ndebele butchered, mostly unarmed civilians.

I hope the screams of the tortured, the wails of the dying, and the keening of the grieving families strips the flesh from your ears.

A room devoted to the shoes of the dead.

The Holocaust is by no means the only genocide our world has ever seen. There are other patches of ground where the blood soaked so deeply that the very land cries out to the heavens above for the pain of it. We are reminded, when we walk through the museum and see the small things. The mundane things we all of us take for granted. The trust that we put in those who rule over us, it can be sheared away in a moment. That, we must never forget. It’s not simply for the Jewish people who were hounded, tormented, and mercilessly killed. It’s all the other peoples who were turned on and declared inhuman, that their neighbors could justify turning a blind eye to what was being done unto them.

A measurement of the acceptable – and forbidden – hair colors, and just below this, eye colors. Institutionalized eugenics.
What remains of the mantle from a synagogue. You cannot convince me that the man swinging the axe did not know the power of the written word.

I’m not suggesting message fiction. I am suggesting that history should be written early, and often, and in many ways. Living history is how my son first came to his connection with the Holocaust, in books like the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and the Book Thief. I myself remember reading Corrie Ten Boom’s Hiding Place at an early age. Both of us were drawn, with a generation between us, to seek out more information and to learn the reality behind the fiction. I let him set the pace in the museum, and stayed right at his shoulder, a step behind, in case he needed me. But I wanted him to face this on his own terms, to learn what he was ready for. At the end, just before we went out of the darkness, he was circling back around to rest his head on my shoulder for a minute, silent, just drawing from me a bit to go back and see another thing, another artifact that exists to keep history alive.

The Intelligentsia… those who can read, and write, and remember history. They become the enemy, here, to Pol Pot, to Mao, to all the crackpot dictators of the world.
A tailor’s tools of his trade, even in the ghetto. it was the smallest things that got to me: they never gave up. They kept trying to maintain a normal life, even as their world was restricted more, and more until it was too small to breathe in.


    1. Homophobic racist murders are bad, except when they’re leftist icons, apparently.

      Damn it, you need a flowchart to follow all the double-standards on display.

      1. no Chris, it is because Che had a penchant for wanting to shoot the intelligentsia… you know, the educated… i.e. people with graduate degrees…

  1. My godparents were Polish Catholics, and were guests of the third reich. (Forgive me for violating the rules of English, but I refuse to capitalize those words, even if they are a proper name.) And yes, they had numbers tattooed on their forearms. In the 1970’s, when we lived in half of a duplex next to them, I can recall hearing my godfather Roche screaming in the night through the wall separating our half of the building from theirs. He had frequent nightmares about what was done to him in the camp thirty years prior.

    1. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Holocaust was much more than just the Jewish people. The museum highlighted the Romany, and what was done to the handicapped people in both Germany and their conquests.

      1. And a great many Christians who tried to help the Jewish people, such as Corrie ten Boom’s family.

        For me, the biggest thing I took from The Hiding Place was how God gave Corrie and her sister Betsy strength in the midst of the horror, and how they then shared that strength with the other women they were imprisoned with.

      2. Only today I saw an article on the Romani, and it mentioned that the middle class of the Romani was wiped out in the Holocaust, because they were prosperous enough to have a paper trail. But because they were considered vermin, much of their extermination (if it wasn’t in the camps) was not recorded—and because they lost their middle class entirely, there was no one to keep the memory green.

        It never occurred to me that all the ones that had a “typical” life (settled, moderately prosperous, taking part in the culture) were wiped out, only leaving the nomadic ones who kept to their culture very strongly. One wonders how much the public perception of them has been affected by this—not quite the equivalent of wiping out all but the homeless of one culture, but pretty close.

        1. The public perception in Eastern Europe is uniformly negative, even among those who admit that there is discrimination against the Roma. The sense is “OK, so they are suspect from the moment they appear, but that’s not an excuse to milk the welfare system and steal almost everything that’s not nailed down.”

          Their victory a few years ago in the European Human Rights Court allowing them to force a 12 year old and a 14 year old to marry upset people as well, because the Court said that Romani custom overrode national law.

          1. does that mean i can explain to the EU courts that it is the custom of my people (the USAians) to carry a loaded firearm everywhere and the custom of my people overrides national law?

          2. Their victory a few years ago in the European Human Rights Court allowing them to force a 12 year old and a 14 year old to marry upset people as well, because the Court said that Romani custom overrode national law.

            Huh. Hadn’t heard about that one. Reading your summary does make me wonder, though, if the judges weren’t just thinking about the Romani but about some other group in Europe whose “customs” often fall afoul of the law…

      1. I’m 100% sure they paid him for it, because he worked for the same airline, and he called the airline to ask “Do you want me to fly the plane since the regular pilot hasn’t shown up?” Since they said yes, that meant that from that moment, he was performing his normal job duties as an employee. There’s no way he didn’t get paid for that.

  2. And the Polish government passed a law making it a criminal offense to say that Poles assisted with the Holocaust. It was interesting, listening to the guides this summer tip-toeing around some of the questions members of the group asked.

    How we remember the past is fascinating, and at times very scary.

    1. Oh man… the Polish government is lucky that I’m not one of those guides. Because what I would say in response to those questions would be along the lines of:

      “There is a law that makes it illegal for me to tell you that Poles assisted with the Holocaust. So I won’t tell you about (name), who definitely did NOT do (horrible thing), and you can NOT read about the historical facts on page 136 of (book title).”

  3. We’re finally getting real stories made about the horrors of the Soviet State.

    I recently re-watched “Chernobyl”, and it is frighting. Mainly because it’s true.

    Here you have another horrific event caused by another all powerful state- in this case indifference caused by petty careerism, butt covering, buck passing, desire to look good in front of others, and the dishonesty inherent to an all powerful command economy.

    Thus the danger of making the State all powerful, whether National Socialist or Bolshevik Socialist.

  4. Don’t think I’d survive a walk through there.

    I prefer the Canadian Warplane Heritage museum. There are preserved the flying examples of what freed those people from that Hell.

    There’s an Avro Lancaster there. One need only look at it to think: “This is what we will do to you.”

    And we’ve gotten so very much -better- at it since then…

      1. “BUFF, the magic dragons…”

        Sometimes you forgot just how BIG a Stratofortress is. One day I was driving through Oklahoma on I-40 and traffic came to a stop. MPs had blocked the freeway temporarily as a B-52 was moved across the road from one part of the base to another.

        It was a nice summer day; a lot of people got out of their vehicles and walked up to the front to get a better view.

  5. It’s a very sad and angering museum, but there are also a lot of stories that make you glad to be part of the human race.

    It’s also interesting because you can choose different “paths” through the museum, one of which is age-appropriate and time-appropriate for young kids, and others that are more for adults or young adults. (They call them “exhibitions,” but some are more or less permanent; others come in and out.)

    I’ve only gone once, though. Not an easy museum.

    1. I visited Mathausen-Gusen just about 10 years ago. You can physically feel the evil weighing down on your soul when you stepped through the gate. Like someone put an empty backpack on you and started slowly pouring sand into it.

      10 years on and I still have nightmares about the place.

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