While France is getting ready to vote in the second run and is rethinking the mounting or further ascent of the far right and the National Front- which guides us back to the theme of Fascism, the cultural events in Paris try to remind everyone of the most painful consequences of Fascism exemplified by Holocaust.
Two nights ago in the Parisian Musée of Judaism there was a big homage paid to the Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi—the conference was held by Daniela Amsallem then followed by the theatrical representation/dramatization of Levi’s interview with Ferdinand Camon. The cinemas are hosting films such as “Django” (by the director Etienne Comar)and “Denial” (by Mick Jackson) which have for their theme the very subject of Holocaust, more precisely that crazy and systematic extermination of the minorities of Jewish, Slavic and Rom(“Gypsy”) nationalities by the Nazi regime during the World War II. At the same time, the public media who follow “the politically correct democratic” postulates try really hard not to pronounce two words which would hurt the ears and opinions of the voters: these are Fascism and Fear.
However, while I’m writing this text, with my fountain-pen stuck behind my new-leftist ear, I can’t forget that the centralist candidate Emmanuel Macron had won a lame advantageous victory in votes before the extreme-right candidate Marin Le Pen only a week ago. I have a greater problem yet not to observe the fact that Le Pen has almost equalized her votes with Macron in the voting boxes of today. In the meantime, I’m trying- as much as the majority of that humane, enlightened and egalitarian France not to enter the state of the daily panic in which I try to remember when was the first time that I paid attention to the phenomenon called the Fascist society—how do we enter it, what is it all about, who creates it- and of course, what are its deadly consequences.
Two books are wide open in front of me on my desk- Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and Primo Levi’s “ Survival in Auschwitz” (If This is a Man). The problem of fascism started occupying my mind for the fist time when I was reading Arendt’s report from the court process of Otto Adolf Eichmann which took place in Jerusalem in 1961. Hannah Arendt, a German philosopher had been trying obsessively to give herself an answer to the question which haunted humanity “Why the victims have never rebelled? That is, how it was possible that these victims allowed to be systematically squashed by the boots of Fascism and suffer the genocide involving the millions of people?” How it was possible that the victims were being exterminated for years without a single sign of protest? “How was their will to live extinguished much before the moment of their concrete physical execution, and why these victims had sort of annulled their identity and their voice much before the fatal encounter with those SS officers?” At one point Arendt will say that the best way to keep people in slavery is to keep them in the apathetic submission and that the ruling Fascism had a way to make robots, walking mannequins out of people who accepted that status quo and were walking silently in the procession right to their scaffold. We have all experienced hopelessness to be able to change anything in the governing system, we have experienced all the absence of desire to vote for ANY presidential candidate as we did not see that the voting could improve the current situation—all of us who did not vote this time in France have felt this sentiment as we decided to walk quietly into a certain ideological concentration lager.
Hannah Arendt, in fact, did not pay so much attention to the personality of Eichmann in her book- this Nazi officer, much like Klaus Barbie, was arrested almost accidentally in Buenos Aires in 1960. From there they took him directly to the court of Nürnberg where he repeated in a “banal” manner, using the vocabulary of a normal German citizen that “he had only doing his homework, under the commands of their supreme Führer, Hitler”. Arendt was not really interested in the structure of Eichmann’s personality– she was, above all interested in the phenomenon of evil in a man, as well as the absence of his consciousness in terms of social and philosophical categories. Thus she will say that “on the bench in Jerusalem there was not a single accused—a man who would be the subject of this historical court-trial, nor was there the Nazi regime itself sitting on that bench– but the phenomena of hatred and antisemitism which were pronouncing themselves in this world (see Europe more precisely) for centuries.
Eichmann had refused, to begin with, to claim guilty at that trial- his lawyer Robert Servicius has said only once that the accused felt guilty “before God but not in front of the legal system as such”. The only time he admitted his error in court was when he mentioned the telephone conversation which he had with Franz Rademacher, a man from the German Ministry of the Foreign Affairs. Rademacher was in charge of “the Jewish question in Yugoslavia and Eichmann authorized him – during the telephone conversation- to apply “the systematic fusillade” in Serbia so that he could clean that part of Eastern Europe of Jews and Gypsies. General Böhme (who was an extended hand in Serbia) hasn’t really realized this advice or order of Eichmann’s efficiently enough, but only six moths later- when he (Böhme) when he himself took a greater initiative in Serbia to collect all women and children as well and apply the “Final Solution” by placing those in a mobile gas chambers in certain trucks. During one of Eichmann’s trials in West Germany in 1952, the accused had mentioned that the greatest “cleansing” in Serbia was performed because “the German army was scheduled to keep order in Serbia and shoot at the Jewish rebels” although, Arendt says that was the worst lie of them all because the Jews never staged an armed rebellion in Serbia, unlike the Jews from Holland who rebelled in 1941.
Had I started thinking about it, at that time, having read these ines which spoke about the nature of Fascist regime and about that nauseous, disastrous “banality of evil”? No. I started reflecting about it the day when I was invited to Matignon, to a special conference held by the former minister of French foreign affairs, Hubert Vedrine, which he was giving to a group of the French, Serbian, Macedonian and Albanian journalists. My colleagues- journalists were asking Vedrine how he felt the first time he landed in Serbia, after the fall of Milosevic’s government and after his given accord to drop the bombs with the depleted uranium on the country. The former minister responded without making a blink: “I always loved Serbia, but at that time- I was just doing my homework- I was executing the orders given to me by my superiors.”
One of our colleagues retorted in a frustrated tone of voice “But, Sir, I think that Eichmann had a similar reply to the given question.” There was a split second of total silence in the room- and then the conversation quickly moved to some other subject.
And now we have a new presidential campaign here and a candidate who comes from the National Front League, Marin Le Pen.
Unlike Hanna Arendt, Primo Levi, Italian Jewish writer, himself a survivor, has always claimed that a fascist like Adolf Eichmann is a warped, pathological and destructive personality, by no means “banal”. And that his desire to command and give orders to the inferiors as well as his need to receive orders from his superiors, a sort of sign of a lucid but deeply troubled, bipolar personality. Mick Jackson’s film “Denial” allegedly follows the real trial of an American historian, a Shoah specialist, Deborah Lipstadt which was described prior to the film in Lipstadt’s book “”History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier”(2000). Lipstadt is somewhat like Arendt, puts herself on trial – in order to prove that banality is never banal enough to be neglected in court, as Lipstadt, a historian and a human rights activist hopelessly tries to deny the existence of those evil and not so banal social groups paid to believe that the gas chambers had never existed in Auschwitz – or anywhere else, during the World War II.
The tone of accusation concerning Fascist government practices is even louder in Etienne Comar’s film “Django”which tells a sublime story of an artist, more precisely- it describes the war years of a famous Rom jazz musician, father of Java and free jazz–Django Reinhardt. Once he was invited to play his music to an elite corps of German SS officers, Reinhardt even decided to do it: he was promised a free leave and an escape for his tribe. However, he was advised by his German impresario to perform “without greater soulful adventure in music”- — consisting of his renowned long guitar solos. Poor Django accepts the challenge and participates in a sort of Gestapo’s Trymalchion party; there he plays his guitar with his band and the SS officers toast to “New Europe, United Europe”, that is German Europe. The most innocent spectator in the cinema cannot fail to observe the insistence of the director’s camera on this scene and soon enough we are bound to ask the inevitable “who is toasting here to whom? Is this a reference to the European union and its broken stability in 2017?” One of the most moving scenes in the film comes a bit later when the musician, majestically played by a new star of the French cinema, Reda Kateb, breaks his legendary guitar in two to hide himself in it- at the moment when he is on the run, approaching the frozen Swiss frontier all alone. And despite the bad reviews coming from the right-oriented French media, we see this film as a great anti-war hymn ending with Django’s “Requiem for the Gypsies”- his composition which was performed only once in front of the French audience.
The big protests against the ambiguous presidential campaign are taking place this week at the Republique square in Paris– I’m wondering if the members of the “Appeal for the Resurgence of the Left” are leaving their fountain-pens and their hatchets behind at home; I’m puzzeled to know if they are doing their homework and if they are going to say these two words loudly: Fascism and Fear; I’m curious to know if they had read the memories of their great poet, Robert Desnos who- once the Gestapo officers came to pick him up and take to the camp- simply handed his fountain-pen to his partner, Yuki, and said something to the effect “they can take away my body- but I remain in my spirit here, with you”, I’m just wondering..