Some years ago, something terrible happened.
Well, to be honest, I´m not sure if terrible or horrible or any adjective of the like is enough to properly describe what happened.
The second world war has always been one of the points in history I´ve been most interested in, I´ve read a fair amount of history about it and I love reading the books from survivors.
Not because it´s “fun” hearing what they went through.
Not because I feel comfortable doing it.
I do it because I don´t feel comfortable reading those stories. Because it´s hard and because it makes me emotional knowing these survivors were the “lucky ones”.
I read about it because it´s something I believe everybody needs to hear, no matter how horrible it is.
This book was written by Art Spiegelman, the son of Vladek, a survivor of Auswich. What makes this so different and unique is that it´s a graphic novel with different people drawn as different animals, something I found also added depth to the story and really enforced the thoughts of the Nazis. The symbolism of making the nazis cats and the Jews mice is incredibly clear and effectual.
What surprised me most was probably how I expected to break down into tears during the absolute most macabre parts of the story, but sometimes I found myself almost numb to what I was reading. It feels so far from our reality that you almost can´t believe it. So instead of being hit the most by Vladek´s descriptions of the gas chambers and the completely inhuman slaughter performed, what really got to me was the mention of all elderly people in his hometown Sosnowiec having to be moved to Theresienstadt (Theresienstadt is the german name, it´s also referred to as Terezín, it´s Chech name) .
If you´re not already aware (which the people during that time weren´t initially either) Theresienstadt is a concentration camp in the Chech Republic, and while it´s considered one of the “slightly better” camps, one of the camps made as an example for show, a total of 141.000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt, 33.500 of them died of diseases and starvation, 88.000 were deported to ghettoes in Eastern Europe and other Extermination/Concentration camps – of these only 3500 survived.
In total, only 23.000 of all Jews who passed through came out alive.
If you haven´t already done the math yourself, this means 118.000 people died in Theresienstadt. And most of the gravestones in the massive memorial sight right outside don´t even have names, only some have a number and the majority are blank.
These are real facts. All of this happened.
And if you´re looking for a book that is factually accurate, this one checks all criteria in my opinion.
And Theresienstadt is only mentioned, the majority of the novel concentrates on Auschwitz-Birkenau which is the camp where our main character Vladek has to spend most of his time and where he was lucky enough not to be one of the 1,1 million people killed.
The reason why it hit me harder was most likely because of a visit I made to Theresienstadt a couple years ago, soon before the visit, I had the privilege through a school seminar to listen to a survivor called Max as he told us his story, answered our questions and showed us his old pajamas and sewing machine.
Just seeing it with your own eyes, seeing the spaces they lived in (if you can really even call it living), the tiny cells and places where hundreds and thousands of lives ended in no other purpose than hate, has a much bigger impact than reading about it. It becomes more real, and getting the feeling of something like this actually being real is hard.
But it´s necessary.
So, no matter who you are; age, gender, race, sexuality, belief: read this. Talk about it, tell people, show them.
So that we may never let it be repeated, and I believe that message is perhaps more important today than ever.