This is a reposted review that I wrote June 20, 2017. It appears here as/is.
Hello again! I’ve just gotten back from our whirlwind long weekend in Belgium. Today happens to be my 45th birthday. I have spent all day in an aging SUV, hurtling down various high speed freeways and avoiding traffic jams as much as possible. It was kind of hellish, trying to get back to Germany today. However, as bad as today’s journey was, it paled in comparison to the journey so many others took to and through Germany back in the 1940s.
I don’t know why, but it seems like I always read about the Holocaust at this time of year. I just recently read The Pharmacist, a book about an ethnic German Romanian pharmacist who was corrupted and became a Nazi. A couple of days ago, I finished Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz (2013) by Shlomo Venezia (Venezia also includes an interesting commentary about why so many Jewish people have places as their last names). This may seem like a very heavy topic to be writing about on my birthday, but I wanted to get my thoughts down before I forgot too much… although honestly, this book was so gripping that I’d be hard pressed to forget much about it.
I’ve read a lot of books about the Holocaust, but none that have quite the perspective that comes from Shlomo Venezia, an Italian Jew whose family was rounded up and deported from Athens, Greece and sent to Auschwitz. Once they arrived, Venezia’s mother and sisters disappeared, almost certainly gassed immediately. In exchange for some extra bread, Shlomo Venezia agreed to be a member of the Sonderkommando. He had no idea what he was signing up for when he agreed to this special duty; basically, it was his job to help remove the corpses from the gas chambers and burn them.
This book, written in interview style, covers what it was like for Venezia to carry out his grim duties. Although he had relative comfort compared to other prisoners, he was there to see fellow Jews sent into the gas chambers. He heard their screams and saw what they looked like after they were murdered. He watched his colleagues raid their bodies before they were dispatched to the crematoriums. One guy lied about being a dentist and was tasked with removing gold teeth from the corpses. He found the work relatively easy at first, but then it grew more difficult as the bodies stiffened.
There were times when Venezia would run into people he knew. One time, an uncle grew too sick to work and was sent to the gas chamber. Shlomo had the opportunity to talk to him before he died. He reassured his uncle, knowing that he was lying, but trying to comfort him in his last moments. He gave him an extra piece of bread. And when he died, he and his colleagues were able to say a kaddish for him before he was cremated.
Venezia was also in a position to see some things that other survivors could not have seen. He witnessed a baby that survived the gas chamber only to be shot in the neck by a Nazi. He saw a mother and son evade the gas chamber for a couple of days, hiding in tall grass. They were eventually found and murdered. He saw some prisoners try to escape, unsuccessfully, of course.
As the war drew to an end, the members of the Sonderkommando became dangerous. They had seen so much. The SS wanted to exterminate them before they could reveal all they knew. Venezia had to use his wits to escape the situation and survive so that he could tell the tale of the horrors of Auschwitz. While it must be a living hell to have those memories, we are fortunate that he is able to share them with the world. I think we still have a lot to learn from the horrors of the Holocaust.
I won’t lie. This book is pretty depressing and often shocking. And yet, it’s fascinating and unbelievable… unbelievable that I now happily live in the country that produced most of the monsters who were capable of such horrific acts. One thing I have noticed about Germany, though, is that its citizens fully recognize what happened and are very ashamed of it. I have had some interesting conversations with Germans in my two times living here and many times visiting. I even met one guy who was a POW in the USA. Still, even having had those conversations and read so many books, it’s hard to even fathom the horrors that went on during World War II.
Shlomo Venezia’s account is stark, unflinching, dispassionate… and it’s often very depressing and horrifying. I still think it’s valuable reading. We really do have a lot to learn from what happened in the 1940s, especially given what is going on in Washington, DC right now.
I highly recommend Inside the Gas Chambers. Be prepared to be shocked at the cruelty people are capable of… and heartened by the smallest acts of kindness and humanity.
Tomorrow’s post will be on a much lighter topic. I promise!
As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.
Another book review repost. This one was written May 27, 2017. It appears here as/is.
For some reason, I often read about the Holocaust during the late spring months. It was definitely true when we lived in Germany the last time. It’s been true this year, too. Maybe there’s something about the sunny weather and warmer temperatures that make me want to read about the grotesque history of Naziism and Hitler’s Final Solution. I don’t know.
I just finished Patricia Posner’s fascinating book, The Pharmacist of Auschwitz: The Untold Story, which is the remarkable tale of Victor Capesius, a Romanian man who served as the chief pharmacist at Auschwitz during World War II. Posner’s book, published in January of 2017, apparently breaks new ground with a story that, until now, had not been widely reported. Having finished reading it this morning, I feel like I learned a lot by reading this well-written and solidly researched book. It was particularly interesting because I happen to live not too far from where Victor Capesius eventually settled after the war.
Dr. Victor Capesius was an ethnic German who was born and raised in Transylvania. He studied pharmacology, married his wife, Fritzi, who was also from Romania, and had three daughters. Eventually, he started working for Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company. Capesius dispensed medications, but he also sold them. He did business with people throughout Europe and was well-liked and regarded. Then, in 1943, when he was 35 years old, Capesius joined the Nazi SS. He was sent to work at Auschwitz, where he quickly rose the ranks in power to become the chief pharmacist.
As chief pharmacist, Capesius had many duties. Some of his work involved providing medications to people who were sick– those people being other officers and their families. He was also in charge of procuring and dispensing Zyklon B, the deadly cyanide based pesticide that was used to murder Jews in gas chambers at death camps around Europe. Another one of Capesius’ duties was to help select Jews arriving at Auschwitz for the gas chambers. Apparently, Capesius wasn’t happy about having to participate in selections, not because he was morally opposed to it, but because he didn’t want the extra duty. Like Josef Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death” who capriciously chose who lived or died, Capesius decided whose lives would be spared and who would be gassed within an hour or two of arrival at the death camp.
Because of his work as a salesman and pharmacist, it wasn’t unusual for Capesius to see people he knew arriving at Auschwitz. These were former friends, colleagues, and customers who had known him as a kind, friendly person. When the prisoners saw Capesius’ familiar face, they trusted him. They had no way of knowing that this man they had once regarded as a friend, or at least someone worthy of respect, was making the decision to exterminate Jews. Sometimes Capesius would spare people he knew and send their families off to be gassed.
Capesius was also notorious for stealing. He stole the belongings of the arriving prisoners, many of whom had stashed their valuables in their luggage, thinking they were simply going to be working for awhile. The pharmacist also stole dental gold from the corpses. He stockpiled these treasures and, once the war was over, used the booty to establish a comfortable life for himself. After World War II, Capesius moved to Göppingen, a town not far from Stuttgart, and started a successful pharmacy. Eventually, his wife, Fritzi, and daughters Melitta, Ingrid, and Christa, were able to leave Romania and join him in Germany. Capesius and his colleagues had pretty much reintegrated into German society after the war and the government seemed content to simply whitewash the past.
Twenty years after the war ended, Capesius and his cronies were brought to justice by a very determined prosecutor. Against the odds, the men were tried and most were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Sadly, the sentences they received for their crimes were ridiculously light.
Patricia Posner’s book is a very interesting read. But more than that, it’s a cautionary tale that Americans should expose themselves to, especially given our current government situation. Victor Capesius was once a fairly decent person. Once he was given unconditional power, he underwent a metamorphosis into a monster. And then, when the war was over and he went back to his regular life, he wanted to bury the past and not be held accountable for his crimes. It seems that many Germans were content with simply forgetting about the horrors of the Holocaust. The same thing could happen in the United States if we’re not careful.
Capesius died in 1985. He was stripped of his pharmacy degree, but he still owned his home and his business, which he ran even after he was convicted of war crimes and served some time in a German prison. His wife, Fritzi, died in 1998. His three daughters went on to earn high level degrees and launched successful careers in Germany, attending schools very close to where I’m currently living.
Another aspect of this book that I found interesting is Posner’s discussion of the company I.G. Farben, which was a conglomerate of several German chemical and pharmaceutical companies, a few of which are still operating today. I.G. Farben consisted of Bayer, BASF, Hoechst, Agfa, Chemische Fabrik Griesheim-Elektron, and Chemische Fabrik vorm. Weiler Ter Meer. At the beginning of the 20th century, German chemical companies led the world in the production of synthetic dyes. The word “Farben” in German means colors.
I.G. Farben had a pretty dirty history. The company used slave labor provided by prisoners from Auschwitz to produce its products. In fact, when it became clear that there was a need for more prison labor, the company was even responsible for the construction of the Monowitz concentration camp, which was a sub-camp of the Auschwitz concentration camp system. It was named after the Polish town where it was located. Prisoners at Monowitz were used at I.G. Farben’s Buna Werke industrial complex, where synthetic rubber was made. The prisoners were starved and sickened and they could not work as hard or as efficiently as the regular employees, despite being threatened with beatings. Prisoners who died while working were dragged back to the camp at night by their colleagues so they could be properly accounted for. Female prisoners were forced to work as sex slaves at Monowitz’s bordello.
I.G. Farben cooperated closely with Nazi officials, producing goods used by the Nazi regime. The conglomerate also owned the patent for Zyklon B, which was invented by a Jewish-German Nobel Prize Winner named Fritz Haber. Zyklon B was originally intended to be an insecticide, but it was very effective for killing people, as well. I.G. Farben profited directly from its use as a murder agent in the gas chambers.
After the war, the Allies considered I.G. Farben to be too morally corrupt to continue operating. Indeed, since 1952, the conglomerate ceased any real activity and remained a shell of a business. However, legally, the conglomerate still existed until just fourteen years ago. And most of the individual companies that were involved with the conglomerate are still operating today.
I highly recommend Patricia Posner’s book for many reasons. I think it’s a good reminder of what can happen when good countries fall victim to bad leadership. Greed, corruption, and hatred can cause a decent society to fall into moral bankruptcy.
Certainly, anyone interested in the history of the Holocaust will find Ms. Posner’s book a great read. She provides plenty of sources for additional reading, so the especially curious will find a rich supply of information. Yes, the subject matter of The Pharmacist of Auschwitz is horrifying and depressing, but it’s a cautionary tale to which we should all pay heed.
As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.
Here’s one more reposted book review. This one was originally written for Epinions.com in 2010 and reposted on my old blog January 24, 2015. It appears here as/is.
On January 27, 2015, it will have been 70 years since Russians liberated the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz. This morning, I read a fascinating news article about an 80 year old Slovakian Jewish woman who was at Auschwitz when the Russians came. It was Marta Wise’s 10th birthday when she was caught by Nazis and sent away, first to the Sered labor camp in Slovakia and then, a few weeks later, to Auschwitz, where she and her sister, Eva were imprisoned and were subjected to the cruel medical experiments carried out by Dr. Josef Mengele.
In the last days of Auschwitz, there was a lot of chaos. Able bodied prisoners were forced to march westward in an attempt to escape the Russians. Because Eva was sick, Marta stayed behind with her. The Nazis tried to kill Marta and some other prisoners by locking them in an enclosure and setting fire around it… but European weather is fickle. A sudden rainstorm put out the fire and Eva and Marta were rescued.
Their survival was against all odds. The sisters were able to go back to Bratislava, where they reunited with their parents and all but one sister, Judith, who died at Auschwitz. Marta moved to Australia and went on to marry and have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am reposting my review of Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz.
The story of Dr. Josef Mengele and his gruesome twins experiments May 8, 2010 (Updated May 8, 2010)
Pros: Fascinating book. Well-written and insightful. Photos.
Cons: May depress some readers.
The Bottom Line: This book is a valuable reminder of where humankind has been and where we don’t want to return.
Last night, I finished reading Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz. This book, published in 1991, was co-written by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel. Lagnado is writer who has had a special interest in Dr. Josef Mengele and his twins experiments at Auschwitz. Sheila Cohn Dekel is also a writer and an educator, as well as the widow of Alex Dekel, one of Mengele’s victims.
A brief overview
Dr. Josef Mengele was a high ranking Nazi physician. He literally had a deadly charm to go with his handsome face. Although Dr. Mengele had been an undistinguished student at his Gymnasium in Gunzburg, Bavaria, he eventually managed to study at the University of Munich, where he earned a Ph.D. in anthropology. Mengele happened to be in Munich as the ideas of eugenics, racial purity, and ethnic cleansing were becoming popular in German society.
Graduating from university with highest honors, he went on to Frankfurt University, where he earned a medical degree and later joined the military. In 1941, he got his first taste of combat and was an excellent soldier. The following year, he was in another battle on the Russian front when he made his first selection. Because there wasn’t enough time or supplies to help every wounded man, Mengele had to decide which of the wounded would be treated and which would be left to die. This task was reportedly very gruesome for Mengele and he hated to do it… but he was evidently very good at it.
Mengele’s skill at picking and choosing would be used again when he went to work at Auschwitz. It was often Mengele who met the trains carrying hungry, exhausted, and often very sick Jews when they arrived at Auschwitz. With a white gloved hand, he would casually pick candidates for the gas chambers, directing the new prisoners to go left or right.
Mengele’s studies in genetics and anthropology made him fascinated by so-called “freaks of nature”. And so, when those trains came to Auschwitz, he directed his fellow Nazi soldiers to help him find quirky subjects for his research. He looked for dwarves, giants, and Jews who didn’t look like Jews. But he was most interested in twins. Mengele believed that twins held the answers to the genetic secrets he had a burning desire to explore. Mengele’s position as a high ranking SS physician at Auschwitz gave him the freedom to explore those secrets by undertaking any experiments his heart desired.
Mengele’s children: a protected class
Dr. Mengele sought twins every time new Jewish prisoners arrived at Auschwitz. Most of the prisoners who arrived were under the impression that they were there to work. So when soldiers called for twins, some parents of twins and adult twins were reluctant to come forward. But as it turned out, the people who ended up in Mengele’s experiements were often better treated than other inmates were. They were fed better, allowed to keep their hair, and had better quarters. They were also safe from the gas chambers. The catch was that they had to be Mengele’s specimens for his often gruesome experiments and exploratory surgeries. Those that didn’t survive the experiments or surgeries were autopsied by an assistant, who would send their body parts and organs to Berlin.
Supposedly, Mengele was comparatively gentle with the twins, particularly with the small children. He kept them in fairly good health and had a fairly gentle touch when he drew blood (on a daily basis). Sometimes, if he had a very young set of twins, he’d let their mother come with them. Mengele would often pick a pet who would be especially well treated. It’s said that he was affectionate with the children, giving them candy and chocolate and sometimes even playing with them. Some of them called him Uncle Mengele. But he would also casually dispose of them when he grew tired of them and none were spared his horrifying experiments.
This book’s layout
The authors of Children of the Flames chose to recount the story of Mengele and the twins in an interesting way. They got the stories from surviving twins who were the subjects of Mengele’s research and flip-flopped between the twins’ experiences and Mengele’s life story. Among the twins interviewed were a pair of male/female twins. The male half had been chosen to be the “twins father” because he had served in the Czechoslovakian army. He looked after all of the male twins. His sister was almost murdered, but was saved before she was sent to the gas chambers. The female twins in Mengele’s research did not have a “twins mother”.
The authors include a lot of commentary from the “twins father”, as well as several other sets of the several thousand twins that Mengele used in his research. Of course, of all of those twins, only a few hundred survived the war. The authors also include photos as well as an afterword that updates readers on the twins.
One thing to know about this account is that it’s not entirely about the concentration camps. The authors don’t go into great detail about the experiments and they don’t dwell much on the concentration camp experience. Instead, they approach the story by describing how it was for the twins before and after the war as they interweave Mengele’s story.
I found Children of the Flames fascinating. Josef Mengele was a horrible person, but he’s extremely interesting to read about. From this account, he comes across as deceptively charming and kindly, yet underneath that gentle exterior was a monster who killed and tortured people as if they were toys. As someone who has studied the social sciences, I find Mengele an extraordinary subject. He really is an example of a sociopath. The authors follow him from Germany to several countries in South America. They also offer information about his two wives, his son Rolf, and his nephew and former stepson, Karl Heinz.
I also enjoyed the interviews from the twins, most of whom were incredibly resilient. Their stories from before and after their experiences at Auschwitz are recounted, giving readers some perspective as to what it was like during their recoveries. Anyone who thinks the Jews had it so much better after they were liberated may be in for a shock. The twins describe very hard times, particularly for those who went to Eastern Europe or Israel rather than America or Canada.
Children of the Flames is excellent reading for anyone who is interested in learning more about Nazi Germany and concentration camps. The authors did an outstanding job of describing who Josef Mengele was as they put a face on his victims. They provide valuable insight as to what it was like for Jews after they were liberated. Even when they weren’t prisoners, they were still victims, haunted by nightmares, poor health, and crushing poverty. This should be required reading for anyone who is a student of European history.
As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.
Recently, it’s been in the news that 95 year old Friedrich Karl Berger, who had been living in Tennessee since the late 1950s, was deported to Germany because when he was 19 years old, he was a Nazi camp guard. Mr. Berger, who had retained his German citizenship, was kicked out of the United States due to the Holtzman Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act, a 1978 law that prohibits anyone who participated in Nazi sponsored persecution to live in the United States.
Because of this current event news item, I am reposting my review of Thomas Buergenthal’s book, A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz As A Young Boy, which I read in 2009, during our first time living in Germany. This review was written for Epinions.com in May 2009, reposted in 2015, and reposted again as/is.
Almost two weeks ago, I reviewed a book about a young man who escaped Saddam Hussein’s army. That review generated a lot of comments and good discussion and in the course of the discussion, the name Hitler came up. And a week later, I happened to come across Thomas Buergenthal’s 2009 book, A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz As a Young Boy. Naturally, I had to read it.
Thomas Buergenthal was the only son of Mundek and Gerda Buergenthal, a handsome Jewish couple who got engaged three days after they met in 1933. Mundek Buergenthal owned a hotel in Lubochna, a resort town in what is now Slovakia. Gerda’s parents had sent their 20 year old daughter for a vacation in hopes of taking her mind off of her non-Jewish boyfriend. Gerda came from Goettingen, Germany, a university town. Her parents were somewhat well-to-do; they owned a shoe store. But at the time, Jews in Goettingen were being harassed by Nazi youths.
Mundek met Gerda at the German-Czech border instead of sending a driver to fetch her. That evening at dinner, Gerda was supposed to be seated at the owner’s table. She was surprised to see her driver there. She didn’t know he was also the owner of the hotel. They were married a few weeks later and Tommy Buergenthal was born eleven months after that.
The first few years of Tommy’s life were somewhat idyllic. But by 1938, the Hlinka Guard, a Slovak fascist group supported by the Nazis, had begun to harass the Jews. Mundek lost his hotel and the little family left Lubochna with only a few suitcases. They moved to Zilina, Slovakia and were able to get by for awhile. Mundek found a job and Gerda learned how to cook. Before long, however, the family was driven from Zilina and into Poland. Mundek had lost his Polish citizenship because he was out of the country for more than five years. Gerda had lost her German citizenship. The family was, in effect, without a country. They had no right to be in Poland or Czechoslovakia… and they didn’t want to be in Germany. They were finally able to settle in Katowice, Poland.
One day, Gerda and a friend went to see a fortune teller. The fortune teller was apparently very good at her craft and told Gerda that she was married and had a son and that her son was ein Gluckskind, a lucky child. The fortune teller then added, prophetically, that Gerda’s son would emerge from the future unscathed. Although Mundek thought Gerda was silly for believing the fortune teller, Gerda never forgot the encounter. It would give her much hope in the coming years.
The family was set to leave Poland for England on September 1, 1939. Unfortunately, Hitler invaded Poland before they could leave from the Polish port. They were going to try to leave Poland from the Balkans and were on a train heading that way when they were attacked by the Germans. By 1942, Tommy and his family were in a Nazi labor camp. By 1944, they were on their way to Auschwitz. Tommy was just ten years old.
The horrors of Auschwitz
When people ask Thomas Buergenthal about his time at Auschwitz, he tells him he was actually lucky to get in there. He adds that he often gets shocked looks from people when he tells them that, then explains that they were actually sent to Birkenau first. Birkenau is a few kilometers from Auschwitz and that was where the gas chambers and crematoriums were. When people arrived at Birkenau, they were subjected to a “selection”. They were lined up and the children, elderly, and invalids were immediately taken to the gas chambers. For some reason, Tommy’s group did not go through a selection. They had come from a labor camp and the SS guards had likely assumed that the weak ones had already been gassed. Had there been a selection, Tommy would have been killed immediately.
Tommy and his father were separated into one camp, while Gerda was sent to another. Their heads were shaved; then they were tatooed and issued uniforms. That evening, Tommy witnessed the first of many horrible scenes as a man was beaten to death in front of him. For the next year, young Tommy would be starved and exhausted; yet, he seemed to be as lucky as the fortune teller said he was. He escaped death many times before the Soviets liberated him in April 1945. He was finally reunited with his mother in 1946. And the fact that he was able to reunite with his mom was also a one in a million shot. Unfortunately, his father did not survive the camp.
Tommy Buergenthal ended up in America, where he later studied international law. He became a human rights lawyer, judge, and eventually the dean of the American University’s Washington College of Law. Now in his 70s, he wrote this book based on the fuzzy memories of his ordeal. He admits in his preface that had he written this book earlier, he would have had a clearer memory about everything that happened. But having just read this book, I can say that I think the memories he did have were probably enough. Buergenthal and his wife now live in The Hague, Netherlands.
A Lucky Child is a fascinating book. I found it very easy to get into Buergenthal’s story, which was alternately horrifying and exciting. After reading about everything that has happened to him, I have to admit that he really was a lucky child. He ran into so many kind people along the way… people who made it possible for him to survive. In one gripping chapter, he describes being moved from Poland to Sachsenhausen in Germany via Czechoslovakia. He and many other prisoners were on a freight train with open cars. When the train first started moving, the car was packed with people and that was enough to keep him warm, albeit uncomfortably squished. But the freezing conditions and lack of food was too much for some of the prisoners to take. They started to die. Soon, it was easy for Tommy to move around, but it was freezing cold and he was starving. As they passed under a couple of bridges in Czechoslovakia, people started dropping loaves of bread into the car. Had it not been for those kind people, it’s likely that Tommy and his friends would have died like the others. He was just eleven years old.
I also found Buergenthal’s story fascinating because as horrible as his experiences were, he also managed to have quite a few adventures, especially after he was liberated. Again, this was because many kind people had taken him under their wings and saw to it that he made it. He never seems to forget it, either. His attitude toward his benefactors is always appreciative. The fact that Tommy survived Auschwitz also made him somewhat a celebrity.
As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that I’ve been to a lot of the places Tommy was. He includes a map of Germany and the surrounding areas during World War II. A lot of the cities were familiar to me. This book also includes pictures, which help put faces to the Buergenthal’s words. Buergenthal speaks several languages and includes a few foreign words in his text, which he thankfully translates.
One thing that was very clear to me as I read this book is that Thomas Buergenthal’s experiences at Auschwitz profoundly changed his view of the world. He describes feeling very irritated with his children who, when they were growing up, hated milk and were picky about food. As a starving inmate at Auschwitz, Tommy and a couple of his friends once risked their lives for a spoonful of milk. He writes that he can’t bear to see food wasted, even when it’s a stale piece of bread. He’ll feed a crust of bread to the birds before he’ll throw it away. His perspective on conservation is one that perhaps a lot of people ought to revisit these days.
I marvel at the fact that Thomas Buergenthal is the same age as my parents are and that reminds me that World War II really wasn’t that long ago. I think A Lucky Child is an important book. It’s a good reminder of how things can go terribly awry when people get complacent about their leaders. I’m also amazed by Buergenthal’s resilience. He not only survived Auschwitz, he went on to thrive and later even came back to the places where he and so many others had suffered so much. I couldn’t help but wonder how he was able to process all of the horrors he witnessed. Yet, I also understand that because he processed them, he was able to share his ultimately triumphant story with the rest of the world.
As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on items sold through my site.
As someone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, it’s been a surreal experience to go from having in person relationships to online relationships. I remember when I was dating Bill, I told my mom that we’d met in a chat room. My mom was horrified. She thought it was so weird. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t tell her what kind of chat room it was. 😉
Nowadays, a lot of people meet and even become friends online. Some people never meet in person. Others are people we once knew offline, but then continue a relationship on the computer. I think communication has really changed significantly with the development of the Internet. In many ways, it’s made people a lot less civilized than they once were.
Take, for instance, my experience yesterday. On Wednesday, I had shared an article about Mike Pence, who was talking to Kamala Harris at Joe Biden’s inauguration. I remarked that Mike Pence had really redeemed himself in my eyes over the past couple of weeks. I said I thought he had a hell of a lot more class than Trump does. I thought some of my more conservative friends would appreciate the nod to Pence, but I immediately got backlash from so-called friends about this statement.
One of them got so pissed that she eventually blocked me, having also criticized me for saying I was going to buy a Donald Trump toilet brush for my bathroom. My remark to her, when she said she wouldn’t want anything “Trump” in her house was, “Luckily, it’s not your house.” I was totally kidding when I wrote that, but apparently, it struck a nerve. In my defense, I read her comment back to me yesterday morning, while sitting on the toilet and before I’d had my coffee. Maybe she thought it was rude for me to say it wasn’t her house, but I think it’s rude to criticize people’s shopping choices– *shrug*.
For context, we were discussing my new Angela Merkel citrus strainer, which Bill was using to make me a celebratory cocktail on Wednesday night. I have started collecting funny household items, particularly if they involve politicians. I also have a Margaret Thatcher nutcracker, and Soviet Matroyshka dolls that feature all of the former leaders up to Yeltsin. I had commented that the only Trump item I would want is a toilet brush. I wouldn’t want the toilet paper, since I don’t want Trump’s image that close to my genitals. However, I think he’s perfectly useful for scrubbing shit residue from my toilet. It was a joke, anyway.
I can only assume that I got “canceled” because this person, whom I once knew and greatly respected offline, is gay. Mike Pence is famously anti-gay, and when he was Indiana’s Governor, he had no regard for anyone identifying as LGBTQ. Many homosexuals suffered under his regime. I don’t agree with, or condone, the way Pence has treated homosexuals. I suspect he does it because of his deeply religious nature. Like it or not, most religions are against homosexuality. I don’t think being anti-gay is Christlike behavior myself, but as we all know, lots of people have different views and don’t care what mine are.
Whether or not anyone wants to believe me, I actually don’t give a flying fuck what someone’s sexual orientation is. I have several gay relatives, one of whom has become somewhat close in the past few years. My sister-in-law is a lesbian who has been married twice to women. I also have a fuckload of gay and lesbian friends, all of whom I value. I don’t give a shit what anyone does in their bedroom, as long as the people participating can and do consent, and there aren’t any pets or livestock involved.
The person who canceled me yesterday was someone I had considered a friend, but clearly it wasn’t so… she didn’t value my friendship at all. I say this because this one incident involving my comments about Mike Pence upset her so much that she very quickly dropkicked me out of her Facebook sphere. She did so, even though I reiterated repeatedly that I didn’t vote for Pence, and wouldn’t vote for him. I simply recognized that instead of going along with Donald Trump’s criminal QAnon gang, he’d followed the law and probably spared us a bloodbath. And then after that, he was the only representative from the Trump administration who attended the inauguration and acted like a mature and civilized human being. Maybe it shouldn’t impress me that he did his job, but it really did. I see nothing wrong with stating that.
I used to not have any appreciation whatsoever for Pence, so the fact that he’s gone up a few notches doesn’t mean that I love him. The bar was set very low, so any positive regard that came from the past couple of weeks still doesn’t negate his actions of the past. And I truly thought I was being nice when I made that comment on my own page. I certainly didn’t imagine it would turn into a controversy. Perhaps it wouldn’t have gone so far south if I hadn’t used the word “redeemed”. But it was late in the evening; I was feeling emotional, and had enjoyed my evening wine.
I bring this up today because I’ve been really disturbed by the phenomenon of cancel culture. People don’t want to discuss things rationally anymore. We have arguments, and if someone disagrees, it turns into a hair flip and a “Fine, we’re done!” attitude. I know that this wouldn’t happen so quickly if folks were face to face, but it’s hard to do that right now, thanks to the pandemic.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Last summer, when Mary Kay Letourneau died, I got into an argument on RfM with someone who called me a “rape apologist” because I expressed condolences to those who had loved her. The woman who called me a rape apologist insisted that having any positive regard or empathy for Mary Kay Letourneau meant that I condoned her actions against her former student, Vili Fualaau, who later became her husband. Vili was at Mary Kay’s side when she died. He is also now a grown man, and obviously didn’t consider his former wife his rapist, even if the law and society say she was.
While I agree that what Mary Kay Letourneau did was very wrong, she did do her time in prison. And even though she went to prison, Vili Fualaau was waiting for her when she got out. They were married for twelve years, divorcing only because Vili wanted to start a marijuana farm and couldn’t legally do so with a convicted felon as his spouse. My thinking is that whatever I might think of Mary Kay Letourneau’s actions are secondary to what her victim thinks. She paid her debt to society, and she clearly had people in her life who loved her, including her ex husband. Although Mary Kay is dead, those people are still left behind and were grieving their loss. They deserve respect and sympathy, even if Mary Kay might not have.
The same thing goes for anyone convicted of a crime. Very few people have no one in the world. Very few people are so awful that there isn’t someone who appreciates and loves them. So when I express sorrow for someone who’s done bad things dying or being injured, it’s not just for that person. It’s also for the innocent people who love them regardless of any negative things they’ve said or done. I feel like I should be allowed to do that without being labeled, chastised, or canceled. In a different era, I probably would be. Or, at least I might have a chance to explain, right?
I can understand why people cancel each other. Nowadays, we’re all bombarded with so much information and relationships tend to be wider and more shallow, rather than deep and narrow. We live in an era where it’s easy to become acquaintances, especially online, but it’s hard to become real friends. And so, when someone is annoying or upsetting, we can just change the channel, as it were, or click the unfriend or even the block button. I’ve done it myself a few times, although I usually do it to strangers before I’ll do it to people I’ve interacted with regularly. I usually don’t unfriend people for being offensive unless they are repeat offenders and I’ve asked them to stop at least once. A person I’ve actually met really has to upset me before I ostracize them completely by hitting the block button. I’ve never done it to a relative, although some of my relatives have done it to me. The vast majority of the people I unfriend get dropped because I don’t actually know them or speak to them, they’ve gone inactive for a long time, or they’re dead. I reserve blocking for people who won’t leave me alone, people who are stalkers or creepy, or people who have been deliberately hurtful.
I know a lot of people are perfectly fine with calling people out and “canceling them”, as if they’ve never done anything wrong themselves. But personally, I find it a very disturbing phenomenon. I’m a big believer in allowing people to be heard, even if what they have to say isn’t something we want to hear. Sometimes unpleasant messages have truths within them, and sometimes group think can obscure humanity. For instance, some years ago, I watched a Disney propaganda film about the rise of Hitler. It’s called Education for Death.
At about five minutes into the above video, we see a schoolboy named Hans in Germany being taught about a fox hunting and killing a rabbit. Everyone in the class is all about the fox killing the rabbit except the little boy, who expresses sympathy for the creature. He’s ostracized and ridiculed for having a different viewpoint, so under tremendous peer pressure, he eventually loses his natural regard for the rabbit and joins his classmates in their bloodthirsty enthusiasm for killing. The narrator says sarcastically, “Hans has now come around to the ‘correct’ Nazi way of thinking.”
Now, I am not in any way comparing what happened to me to Naziism. What I’m trying to point out is that respectful discussions and sharing different perspectives are good things. It’s useful and helpful to talk about different views. I see nothing wrong with recognizing something good in someone’s actions, even if that person has been “canceled” or is not politically correct or popular. Like I said, I don’t think there are too many people who are truly all good or all bad. I do think “all bad” people exist, but my opinion is that there are very few of them. And a person should have the chance to redeem themselves, if they can. It’s not a good thing for someone to go through life being hated by everyone.
I also think hating people takes a lot of energy. There are a couple of people in the world that I can honestly say that I legitimately have no regard for at all. I have my personal reasons for feeling that way about them, though, and I don’t expect others to feel the same way I do. Having negative feelings about those people who actually harmed me in a personal way already takes a lot of energy. I don’t have the energy to spare to also hate politicians with whom I disagree. Trump, of course, is a different matter. I probably do legitimately hate him, and I make no apologies for that. But I’m not going to kick people out of my life for disagreeing with me. If I did that, I’d never speak to my family again.
My former friend apparently loathes Mike Pence. She has her reasons for loathing him. I probably even agree with her for feeling the way she does. But prior to the other day, it was not something we’d ever discussed. I can’t say we really discussed it the other day, either, since she quickly got pissed off and split. She just expected me to share her view and canceled me when I didn’t. Or, at least that’s what I concluded, since she didn’t talk to me about what had upset her so much. And I was left realizing that this person I had once respected, and had even told that I respected, had no respect whatsoever for me.
I know some people will tell me I’m too sensitive. In fact, when I posted a thought about this situation, I got a comment from someone who acted as an apologist and gave me advice. Advice was not really what I was seeking, though. What I was doing was requesting that those who are too immature to have a respectful discussion to go ahead and unfriend me now. Because that’s not how I “do” real friendship– at least not with people I actually know and care about offline. And I am not going to let anyone tell me how to think or what I can or can’t say. I’d rather have fewer real friends than a bunch of fakes clogging up my feed.
If I want to commend Mike Pence for following the law and showing dignity at the inauguration, that should be my privilege, especially on my space. Real friends will let me say that and have a rational and respectful discussion if they disagree with me. They won’t flip their hair, call me names, or cancel me for voicing my opinion. And if that’s the kind of person you are, as my ex friend said, “count me out.”
In other news… yesterday, we found out Arran has a mast cell tumor. He has to have surgery on Monday. Here we go again.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.