Incognito Press

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Posts Tagged ‘ww2’

Colonia Dignidad – An Experiment in Terror and Behavior Modification

Posted by E on April 18, 2016

Emma Watson Colonia

If you’re planning to see the new Emma Watson film Colonia, please don’t watch the trailer first. Punctuated by the groan-inducing line “When they took her man”, this has to be one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen. Its weakness resides in the fact that they take an empowered, arguably feminist main character and make her out to look like a desperate flower, someone who cannot survive unless she finds “her man”. But since I’ve just told you not to think of a pink elephant and piqued your curiosity, here’s the trailer so you can see for yourself:

Hollywood is no stranger to using contrived romances that push the boundaries of cheese in order to serve up an important social or political event as backdrop. Think the fictitious, ill-fated romance of Jack and Rose to showcase the spectacular sinkability of the most unsinkable ships of all, the Titanic. But there’s a fine line between using romance to build up a film and gratuitous humping, and that line was blurred for the first 12 minutes of Colonia, as Lena and Daniel went at each other worse than the cats in heat outside my place at night. Fighting against the urge to hurl a glass of cold water at the screen and shout “Break it up already!”, I gritted my teeth and stuck it out. (Am I showing my age here or what?) Oh, and to all of you asking on YouTube if Emma gets nude in this flick, sorry to disappoint.

It took a while for the movie to get better. It didn’t help that the main characters’ downfall begins with a series of utterly idiotic moves. Hey – there’s a violent riot outside! Let me grab my camera, run right up to cops in combat gear and shoot photos of them beating up people! No way are they going to kick my head in or beat up my girlfriend! Oh, and just keep standing in the front row at prisoner roll-call when the wiser move would be to blend at the back of the crowd and hope you won’t get noticed, especially since you’re a political activist and agitator.

But alas, after the lovebirds (or cats in heat, depending on your perspective) get separated, Emma Watson’s Lena sacrifices herself by travelling to Colonia Dignidad in an attempt to infiltrate them. Note: I’m not spoiling the movie here since the trailer basically gives it all away.

Without any solid proof that her boyfriend is still alive or even at Colonia anymore, Lena stays for an unbelievable 130 days working slave labour in scorching fields, spending long days without any water, being beaten up by a matronly, sadistic female camp guard. By then, anybody in their right mind would’ve left already or at least made serious attempts to fly that coop. Instead, Lena purposefully – or shall I say masochistically – manoeuvres to get beaten up (and potentially murdered) at the men’s gathering in a fleeting attempt to see if Daniel is among them.

Colonia movie Emma Watson

OK, so reading this far in my review you might think I really hated it, but you’d be wrong. In truth, Colonia isn’t bad at all (though it had potential to be even better). Its strength lies in the second half, the part that is based on fact rather than fiction – when the full horror of the camp begins to unfold. The brainwashed residents, the hard labour, the dirndls and Eva Braun-type of bun-braids, the children wearing lederhosen who are separated and isolated from their families and grow up not knowing who their parents are.

This was a gripping film with amazing cinematography and a very effective build-up of tension. These days, you practically have to make a deal with the devil in order to shine a spotlight on an issue everybody would otherwise have ignored – the devil in this case being the Harry Potter brand incarnated in Emma Watson, who I should say did a great job with what she was given. The harrowing ending was particularly intense and well-executed.

I’ve always believed that the true mark of a good movie is the lasting impression it has on you – how long it stays in your mind after you’ve left the theatre. Also, that it should teach you something you didn’t know before. This movie checks both these all-important boxes: it lingers with you as well as makes you think and want to learn more, which makes it a success.

I am grateful that it got made, despite the contrived love story and the fact that these days you can’t make a film about an important issue or historical event without the backing of a Hollywood A-lister. In this day and age, being a “celebrity” (i.e. someone who reads lines written by others and performs on cue, like a trained seal) has more weight than the scientists silently toiling away in labs across the world to discover the cure for cancer or dementia. But I digress.

THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE FILM

colonia-dignidadAlthough I’m fairly familiar with the history of the ex-Nazi diaspora and the communities they established across South America, particularly in Argentina and Brazil, I hadn’t heard about Colonia Dignidad before I watched the film. Now called Villa Baviera (Bavarian Village), in its heyday (and under the leadership of Nazi psychopath Paul Schafer) it was home to hundreds of residents. The 137 km property was surrounded by barbed wire fences, searchlights and a watchtower, and was full of weapon caches and explosives, serving as an impromptu prison for political dissidents brought there by Augusto Pinochet‘s DINA, the Chilean Secret Police.

My immediate thoughts after the movie (and my gut impression) was that there had to be more to Colonia Dignidad beyond providing a means for ex-Luftwaffe officer Paul Schafer‘s cold-blooded sadism and his sexual abuse of children. I know Wikipedia says it’s considered to be a cult of some sort, but this was (and possibly still is) more than just a cult.

Certainly this is evident in the German government’s tacit approval of Schafer’s methodologies, his connections with people high up in the German embassy, as well as deep roots within Pinochet’s secret police. A man who is simply an egomaniac pedophile wouldn’t have this sort of clout. No, there had to be much more to this place for him to get away with all that he did.

It seems to me that Colonia was both a continuation of the concentration camp model, as well as an experiment in behaviour modification – both at the macro and the micro level. Prisoners were brought in and were never seen again. It’s clear that torture happened, but given the cultish obedience and knee-jerk reflex of fear instilled in the residents, the colony may have been a living laboratory in mind control.

Colonia Dignidad Villa Baviera originalI don’t like to throw words like “mind control” around lightly, because there are far too many nutcases and conspiracy theorists like the folks who hang out on Godlike Productions and think a secret brotherhood of shape-shifting reptiles rules the world. The term “mind control” is synonymous with all sorts of crazy, despite the fact that there’s no denying the truth behind Operation Paperclip and the experiments that were carried out both in the West and behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War years.

Don’t believe me? You don’t have to – both the CIA and Simon Wiesenthal have presented evidence that shows Josef Mengele had resided at the colony for some time in the 1960s. Mengele was just one of several other high-profile Nazis to have stayed there, the other being Martin Bormann, once the highest ranking Nazi in the world after Adolf Hitler. According to historian Ladislas Farago, Bormann lived for a period of time in seclusion at Colonia Dignidad, having “sought a place where he could be at peace.”

There is something sinister about Colonia Dignidad that leads me to believe this was a place where behavior modification experiments happened, if only because the doctrine was rooted in brainwashing of its residents and because medications were often administered, along with severe forms of punishment. But it was also connected with the disappearance of political prisoners who were transported there and were never seen again.

Boris WeisfeilerI think there is more than meets the eye because of the length of time – decades – that Schafer and his goons were able to operate with immunity. Even after Boris Weisfeiler, a Russian-born American mathematician, disappeared and was believed to be murdered by Colonia residents, it took until 2012 (and after Schafer’s death) for a judge to call an indictment against eight retired cops and others involved with the disappearance.

And just one month before the movie Colonia was released, Weisfeiler’s case was deemed a “common crime” whose statute of limitations had passed, and was officially closed.

It’s not difficult to speculate as to the reason why.

Pinochet ruled as dictator of Chile until 1990, but remained the army’s Commander-in-Chief until 1998. The 1970s, 80s and 90s were not that long ago. Many of the officers involved in Pinochet’s regime are well-established men now, men whose power likely still extends all the way up to Chile’s current government. Clearly, there are too many who might have something to lose if the facts behind Colonia Dignidad come out, and they will do everything in their power to sweep the truth under the carpet.

 Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Chile

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Auschwitz: Remnants of Sunlight

Posted by E on January 27, 2015

Auschwitz photos birkenau camp pics girl krystina

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I’ve thought for a long time about what I might be able to write, about what I could say to both honour and preserve the memory of such terror coming to an end. Do I write about the time when I was once surrounded by neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionists who wove a network of neo-fascists across Europe, Canada, America and South America?

Do I write about old Steve Bendersky, who was like a beloved uncle to me when I was a child and whose arm bore the faded blue numbers that I once seriously contemplated tattooing onto my own wrist? Whose Shabbat candles I inherited after his death and which I still light every Friday evening?

Do I write about discovering my Jewish roots, and how my family tree research has come to an abrupt halt as I realize that it’s very likely most of my father’s relatives perished in the war?

If I started to write about the heartache that Auschwitz represents both to me and to Jews as a population, along with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, gypsies and political prisoners in WW2, I would probably just sit here, start crying and be unable to stop, much less write a single word. So instead, I want to talk about my own memories of the concentration camp.

I visited Auschwitz once, during the summer of 2001, the year after I graduated university and worked as an English teacher in South Korea. Instead of doing something respectable like paying off my defaulted student loans, I decided that I had to journey back to eastern Europe that summer – I had to track down for myself the roots of the hatred that had surrounded my early life.

I took these photos at Auschwitz-Birkenau and I wrote this long poem, Remnants of Sunlight, which I published in my first poetry book. Today, on the 70th anniversary of the WW2 genocide that represents the worst of humanity, I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz than to republish this poem that is so close to my heart here, on my own blog.

Many of the verses and imagery encompassed here were scribbled while I stood there, in the empty barracks of Birkenau – it was a sunny, beautiful day, in contrast to the horror that surrounded me. The planks underneath my feet snapped and crackled as I walked among the barracks, amid the three-tiered bunk slots, touching the worn, rain-soaked wood that had once let in the cold, bitter winter winds that killed thousands of malnourished prisoners.

I listened to the frogs and crickets singing through the knee-high grass, and imagined that the lush, verdant greenery of my surroundings had sprouted up from the ashes and crumbling bones of countless nameless victims. I felt the great big emptiness of those awful barracks corrode through my entire being and leave a huge, empty hole in my soul.

And then I wrote this poem.

REMNANTS OF SUNLIGHT

  1. BARBED ROOTS

Last night, my fate made an unannounced appearance.

She presented herself for dinner uncombed,

long hair spreading like a silver service set

upon my Hungarian lace and Polish linen.

Her lips made the sound of a struck match

and then she dissolved like the flame

and suddenly,

folded between napkins and candlelight,

in clotted ink behind all the spice jars,

I discovered a journey –

 

A pilgrimage of crumbling pages

with scribbles and margins ripped

and a big part missing,

the part about how, one evening in August

my return is inevitable.

 

The coarse grains of history

have become threads between my fingers

as I hold my father’s funeral suit in preparation

and the smell of mothballs finds another fragrance

of yellowed books, copper and sulphur

lingering soft as the light of opals

and the mouldy cellar smell of a dead grandmother

 

chemical powders and twisted letters

weave like high country roads on my tongue;

the sound of predestination

is the hush of waist-high grass among barracks

and the ribbit of frogs leaping

out of a pond of ashes

 

right after graduation I know I must find him –

breathe in the last days of my father’s essence,

find out his ending

I have to revisit the house where my grandmother lived

locate the little girl who was my sister, now missing

 

the boulders that rained upon my childhood

must be swept out

from the floorboards of this house

that I have carried on my back

for more than twenty years

 

The dark house of my memories

where my father who disappeared breathes

the house that nightly perches on my eyelids

and ropes my hair down through the pillow

into the black earth of a country

I left when I was ten

 

I arrange to fly from Toronto to Paris one-way

then train onward to eastern Europe

 

Unfolding in the silence pressed among suitcases

packed with blossoms

brittle like paper, like blouses

I wait

in the centre of the Black Forest

 

weeds protrude through the planks underneath

and I smell the sun and the moon being burned

 

I inherited the wire

my hair grows twisted like that, all black

charred like Romany wagons

and muddy villages

the same colour as the evening branches I reach toward

through the smeared window

of the Krakow-Budapest train

 

Brushing my fingertips against the corrosion of metal railings

I feel the echo of locomotives flowing through them,

the breathing of doves perched on wooden fences.

I pick up little white stones shaped like petals

and a fire is burning in my palms

 

2. KRAKOW, 5762

 

Two hours before you catch

the connecting train

in the middle of nowhere

the birds sing louder, gravel paves the horizon.

Two hours to put down your backpack and breathe in

the smell of corn and sleepless kilometres

lingering like murmuring chords

 

Shadows of firs line your closed eyelashes

pad riverbeds and uncombed hair

an unlit street, a colour

splashing over your shoulder

a bridge rail glinting in the sun

 

you arch, the metal between your fingers

rocking in your palm

a rocks skips across the shallow surface below

emerging on the shore

in the stubble of raspberries and grass against trees

 

like a bell, your mouth

opens to echo the air

swallowing another voice that breaks out

like a burning rash, over autumns without hours

and railroads that glint in the afternoon sun

 

shadows juxtapose across your forehead

cloth is reduced to threads, even-numbered and silent

and the direction of the winds commands

the distant vapour of wheat to start an insurrection

 

your two hands on the railing testify unknowingly

by virtue of their existence

about the arid landscape and the sharpness of language,

the language of grandmothers in old photos

and numbered suitcases in dark rooms;

a language you don’t even speak

of a place you don’t even know –

letters, epitaphs, barometers

are the only coordinates left

in this geography of asphalt.

 

III. THE HIVE

 

The old woman with the glassy green brooches

today forgot to pencil in her brows

not that it makes any difference;

her eyelids still sag under the thick black India ink

but she doesn’t stop writing –

If I am dead, who will write these verses for you?

 

Now enters the smell of white chrysanthemum

carrying the musk of narrow wardrobes

and yellowed newspapers rustling underneath.

 

Outside the open window, bees are humming;

sunshine dust gathers languorous and heavy –

a few slender rays spread like fingers

across my rumpled blue bedspread.

 

From this high window I can see the entire city

how pretty Wawel castle is, how loud the wail

of the dying trumpeter across Rynek Glowny Square

 

and how empty of voices

although on another frequency that only stray animals make out

pressed between the dying weed and cobblestones

there is singing

 

no matter how many hot the day, she remains cold

papery like a delicate leaf in the morning rain

and still here, through the sunshine and foliage

climbing over the windowsill

the fingertips of ghosts continue to cling from the edge

 

in every vacant place, on every park bench

there is a hollowness that becomes testament,

then turns into voice

and the voice speaks the names – all of them

every one of them

 

Darting through my black hair

Auschwitz’s bees search for their stolen honey

buzzing through tall cannibal grass

buzzing in and out of the barracks

 

Don’t touch, don’t search my soul,

she leaves me a folded message on the table

not on such a beautiful day

so hot, so full of brightness

when the circumference of summer

becomes a fragile eggshell

with its yolk missing

 

IV. AT SUNRISE THE FORGOTTEN WILL WEEP

 

At sunrise the forgotten will weep

big tears of stone.

 

So heavy their tears,

they will roll down hills as great boulders

 

and smash into the grey buildings that had crushed

the beating hearts of the nameless

 

such great rocks will fall – thick like rain in the valleys

and the forgotten will once again weep

 

So wet will their tears be

that they will moisten the earth

and make it easier for fingers to dig out

 

fathers and grandmothers

brushing the dirt from their clothes

picking up suitcases, ready to come home

 

So hot the sunrise will be

that it will dry the blood on their faces

and clear a sadness fringed with eyelashes

 

It will call them by name

reacquainting them with the heat of the loved

with the sensation that somebody remembered

 

the names and the dreams they once carried

folded like secret letters

in the depths of their shirt pockets

 

V. FAR FROM THE APPLE ORCHARD

 

In my classroom in downtown Seoul, the windows are always open with voices.

Little kids squeal and climb up my back; we sing about the dog named Bingo

eat kimchi together for lunch, the heat of searing Korean spices

wafting away that other smell of smoke

 

On vacation in Beijing I climb the Great Wall through stinging air,

running up the steps as fast as I can, like a Tibetan mountain goat

trying to reach the heights of Tibetan mountain-dwellers

where the North wind rages so loudly, it silences everything

 

A year later, along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence,

I listen as Michelangelo would have, to the sound of hammer and chisel

drifting across the Arno. Here, the clang of iron is an invocation of beauty,

not the screech of a train coming to a stop, the crash of gates closing

 

Then, on the bus to Mombassa, along the bright coast

women with round syllables and laughter

sing a song of bronze bracelets and colourful khangas

 

So far from the dark, endless woods where songs turn to screams

where the faces of locals are stout and red

as though stained by the blood underneath their feet.

 

As far down as Cusco I feel the breath of cliffs on my back,

The spit of hot springs at Aguas Calientes. Up the trail to Macchu Picchu

I smell chickens in the alpine air: wild fowl, wet feathers, muddy paths.

 

I am like an apple, there are five parts to me –

seed, core, meat, skin, and stem.

Like an apple, I leave parts of myself everywhere.

 

I am the shell of a seed eaten up by villages of rock and dirt along the Danube –

swept along rivers rampaging out of their beds

there is nothing left but my war –

a forest of wolves.

 

The shaman anoints my forehead with red liquid.

His hands smell of fermented herbs, berries, cocoa leaves, leather.

You are a bird that refuses to feed or to fly/

but there is something in you which will not die.

 

My ears pick up the noise of the jungle, rushing water and tall blades of grass.

The heat inside the enclosed hut makes my body sticky;

The air is viscous and green with thunderstorms.

 

This may well be the first time I can see /

this strength that has always evaded me

the will of a body to survive in spite of itself –

a drowning rat clawing out of its own frailty.

 

How much determination is required to breathe?

There are certain things a body will do with or without approval;

(take in air, for example).

A body will fight for survival.

A body will survive pogroms, refugee camps, beatings

while the mind, just a seed raw and torn from its shell

stays wrapped in a peel of green apple skin

around a tea cup glazed with a Spanish windmill,

the last one of a set.

 

 

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Adopt an ancestor, enrich yourself

Posted by E on February 5, 2011

There are few things sadder to me than to see the vital documents, precious old photographs, and stacks of correspondence being auctioned off on ebay for profit. Just last week I saw a scuffed, stained porcelain doll that had been in a Jewish ghetto in Belgium, and another that made it through Buchenwald and was stamped as the possession of one Anna Schwarzman. A little girl once loved this doll enough to carry it around with her as she was displaced from her home and homeland.
Often these kind of personal treasures end up in museums, but it’s not always so, and possessions such as these surface frequently on ebay. Everything from old love letters to ID cards, to passports and assorted documents that had been of extreme importance to their owner.

Just last week, a photo of a young girl flanked by two older people, presumably her parents, was listed for an auction. The back of it had a line in Romanian, written in a delicate, cursive script: “So that the memory of this precious beloved day may never be forgotten.”

Surely back on that summer day in 1922, this girl never imagined that someday her precious papers would be on sale to strangers for less than $10 – perhaps she imagined that her own children would keep these items in treasured photo albums. Perhaps she never had children. Perhaps she never made it through the war.
Sometimes I wonder – will the things I love so much, the few remaining items of my childhood, be auctioned off by someone who will never understand their value to me?

Whenever I can, I’ve made it my mandate to rescue lost ancestors. For all intents and purposes I consider myself an orphan, with no family on this continent. The few distant relatives I do have back in my native homeland, a country I left when I was 10, are divided from me by more than an ocean: the barrier of language (my Romanian is terrible), different social norms, differences in how we perceive the world, society in general. I hardly know the people back in Europe, though we share some strands of collective DNA.
So when I’m on ebay and I look into the faces of these people whose names I may never know, I feel a special ache for the dispossessed. In their eyes, I see myself: an orphan collectively building herself a new family, one photograph, one letter, one wartime document at a time.

It started with one piece of paper – I was hunting around for something altogether different, an out-of-print book, when I stumbled upon a listing that captivated me. It was a stateless person document issued in a refugee camp in Austria at the end of WW2.

Stapled to the inside cover was a passport-size photo of an old woman who reminded me of my grandmother. She had the saddest eyes in the world, loaded with anger and pain and possibly defeat. I thought to myself, how would it feel to be 65 years old and be considered “stateless”?
At that age, she should have been warm and comfy in her own home, her meals cooked by a daughter-in-law…but no, she was a displaced person, a widow, someone with the echo of death already playing in her eyes. While people all around her were being selected by immigration committees, Canada, the US and Australia were looking only for young, able-bodied and preferably single persons to emigrate. Serafima would not have been on anybody’s desired list.
Not only did I acquire her documents, but I began to research her story from the few details included on the ID: the name of her birth-village, Labinskaya (changed to Labinsk in modern day) a small Cossack-founded town in the Caucasus Mountains.
Wikipedia told me that between August 1942 and January 1943, Labinskaya was occupied by the German Wehrmacht. The residents had fearlessly fought the enemy, and on January 25, 1943 Stanitsa Labinskaya was liberated from the Nazi occupation. But between that time, thousands of residents had been forced to either flee, or been sent to concentration camps.
Perhaps Serafima’s husband or sons perished in the fighting. One will never know, and a Google and Facebook search does not reveal anyone with her last name or variations thereof. It is possible the name Sadochlin(a) ended with the war.

I wondered why there would be so many Cossack refugees in Austria, and why they were still there after the war had ended, instead of returning to their Russian homes. Then, after another hour of research, I discovered about the Yalta Agreement, and the forced repatriation of Cossacks by the British Army.
Seen as enemies by both Russians and the Brits, the Cossacks who returned to Russia were sent directly to Siberian gulags where they met austere conditions and often death. The ones who refused to get on those trains were beaten and shot to death by the British Army.
In Lienz, Austria, there is a graveyard with some twenty crosses, where more than three hundred Cossacks who refused to return to Stalin’s Russia were instead massacred by the British Forces. I’ll probably never know if Serafima made her way to Camp Kellerberg from the massacre at Lienz, or was transferred there from another displaced persons camp.

The story may very well end here, with her document in my hands, but the memory of this heartbroken woman lives on inside me. I take comfort in knowing that Serafima has now found a person on the other side of the ocean, six decades and a lifetime after the moment that photograph was snapped, who will not allow her name to be forgotten.

Posted in adoption, family, freedom, history, war, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »