On this anniversary of the Holocaust remembrance, I recall a rather obscure, movie called The Grey Zone that I saw nearly ten years ago. The movie was based on the true story of an Hungarian doctor and on his life with the brigades of Jewish workers in Nazi concentration camps. Those Jewish slave workers cleaned the gas chambers and operated the cremation ovens. They were grey all over from the ashes, so hence The Grey Zone. Typically these workers were exterminated after few months, so for their effort they were given an extra three to four months of life and a modicum of concentration camp comforts such as better sleeping arrangements, more food and cigarettes.
While the much better known Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler'sList left me tearful, The Grey Zone left me in a state of deep and intense sadness; actually agony; but with remarkable clarity. The Grey Zone delivered all the shocking images that I could only guess at, but frankly dared not imagine. Here they were, right there before our eyes; hordes of people; entry into the gas chambers, the gas, the bodies piled up, the ovens, the ashes ...the whole thing. Not just the crowded trains, frightened faces and tired little hands clutching personal treasures , remnants of normal times, necklaces or photos of loved ones, but rather the full graphic details.
I am deeply saddened that that in my native Egypt, books of Holocaust deniers or those allocating much of the blame for the Holocaust to the Jews themselves, are increasingly widely accepted as the truth. It saddens me that movies like Schindler’s List have, to my knowledge, not been shown on Egyptian TV; while at the same time Egyptian State TV under Mubarak dictatorship serialized a drama based on the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
I am also saddened that most Egyptians today are unaware of the very honorable role Egypt played receiving boatfuls of Jews escaping from Nazi controlled Europe at a time when Jews were still being turned away from the United States. Sadly, to my knowledge the honorable contribution of Egypt saving Jews escaping Nazi receives no mention in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem either or in other places commemorating the Holocaust. So as we remember the Holocaust today, I want more people to remember Alexandria as a willing safe haven for Jews and to honor Egypt’s role.
The Grey Zone left me with heightened clarity on some fundamental ideas. Humans are capable of great horrors; normally decent human beings, in the face of mortal danger, will resort to unspeakable acts to save their own skin, even for a short while! …and hate survives on the fear of its would be victims and on the silence of those who witness it.
As we remember I hope we look deep inside and attempt to cleanse ourselves from hate, prejudice and fear!
January 27, 2012