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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
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"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
Margarete Barthel says she feels guilty for her wartime role as a guard at Ravensbrueck concentration camp. She also says it was the 'most beautiful' time of her life
Ravensbrueck, the only Nazi concentration camp dedicated to the incarceration and murder of women. Sixty years after some 30,000 perished here, those who passed through the camp are incessantly drawn back, braving infirmity and grief to retrace this bumpy road. All of them Holocaust survivors -- until that summer day in 1996, when Margarete Barthel walked into the main exhibition hall.
She was 74 then, still robust, intent as she scanned the photos for faces she might know. The docent who approached her took her for a typical visitor -- a Polish communist, French resistante, Czech Jew, perhaps. Margarete shook her head when asked if she needed help. "No, thank you," she responded. "I know my way around." She took a breath, then said it. "I was a guard here."
The telephone rang almost immediately one floor below, in the office of memorial director Sigrid Jacobeit. Even today, remembering that call raises goose flesh on her arms. Never before had one of the 3,500 young German and Austrian women trained to work as guards at Ravensbrueck or elsewhere returned and openly declared herself.
The testimony of everyday German men and women who perpetrated Nazi horror has almost never come to light. Nazi leaders testified in their own postwar trials; a few wrote memoirs. Soldiers left diaries and letters that historians have since unearthed. But the vast majority of Nazi perpetrators -- the millions of low-level functionaries who did the daily, dirty work of genocide -- took their stories with them to the grave. Few divulged their pasts, even to their own families.
Margarete Barthel, now 83 and housebound by arthritis, is a rare exception. She alone has felt driven to try to explain. Not only how she became an SS guard, but also the perverse paradox of her life: That while today she feels guilt for "all those murdered people," the macabre truth is that, "for me, the time in Ravensbrueck was the most beautiful time."
All she wants is to set the record straight, Margarete says, for others to see her for the manipulated young woman she believed herself to be, not one of the criminal "blond beasts" that female SS are seen as.
Like so many World War II tales, the story Margarete tells started with a summons. Not, though, the brutal knock of the Gestapo -- instead, a summons to the personnel office of Ruhrchemie AG, a chemical company on Germany's western border where she worked as a lab assistant, filling bombs for the Luftwaffe. It was August 1944. Margarete was 21, a cheeky, fun-loving young woman with an eighth-grade education. Her best friend, Leni, had signed up for what the company called a two-week apprenticeship outside Berlin. Margarete stepped forward and asked to be put on the list, too.
A more ordinary girl from a more typical German family can hardly be imagined. Her household was neither ardently Nazi nor resolutely opposed. Her father, a left-leaning miner, refused to hang the Nazi banner, while her mother, devout and authoritarian, quietly placed little swastika flags in the flowerpots. Both brothers served in Hitler's army; one deserted and was jailed and later compensated as a victim of persecution by the regime. "I came from a social democratic household," Margarete will insist repeatedly, years later. "We had nothing to do with the Nazis."
Within days, Margarete and her girlfriends Leni and Friedchen were on a train headed east, away from the Ruhr Valley, which was being carpet-bombed by the Allies day and night. They were lighthearted and delirious with joy at getting out. Margarete had curls in her brown hair, red polish on her fingernails.
Their first inkling about the true nature of their "apprenticeship," Margarete says, was the barbed wire. "We got out, and we knew it was a concentration camp. We were furious." Entering the SS cafeteria, "we saw the prisoners out the window," she recalls, her dark eyes hardening. "My God, it was awful."
Konzentrationslager Ravensbrueck was completed in 1939 to incarcerate Hitler's political enemies, but within a few years it had evolved into a brutal exemplar of Nazi "extermination through work," a slave labor camp where "undesirable" women -- first German opponents of the regime and prostitutes and criminals, then Gypsies, Jews and resisters -- toiled for the Nazi war machine. By mid-1944, the camp -- a high-walled, barbed-wire hellhole in which 40,000 starving, disease-ridden prisoners were crammed into barracks built for one-fifth that number -- supplied slaves to dozens of satellite camps and factories locally and across Germany.
The camp also served as the training ground for female SS guards, who, like notorious war criminal Irma Grese, then went on to serve in death camps such as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Maidanek. Several dozen, with whips and dogs, ran the barracks alongside armed SS men, and more than 400 others marched the prisoners to their grinding work each day. Historians have shown that virtually all these female SS guards were simple German-speaking women from either the surrounding Mecklenburg region or Austria; most, like Margarete, were under 30, unattached, and had little schooling. Early in the war, many joined of their own initiative, applying for jobs that paid twice what they could make as maids or waitresses. But as demand for labor skyrocketed in 1943, more prisoners were jammed in, and the SS ordered defense contractors whose factories benefited from their slaves -- like Margarete's employer, Ruhrchemie -- to provide the women to guard them. Margarete and her friends had been requisitioned for the women's auxiliary of the SS.
In that hot and beautiful August of 1944, Margarete says, the young women from Ruhrchemie swore to stick together. After being photographed and assigned uniforms -- different, she says, from those of "those other, volunteer guards" -- the three of them signed up to supervise various outside work details: a crew that made wooden shoes in a neighboring village, one that sewed military uniforms, others that grew vegetables for the camp or built roads and landing strips farther afield. Eventually Margarete -- armed with a whistle, should a prisoner bolt -- oversaw a crew in a factory run by the electronics firm Siemens AG, where prisoners made parts for Nazi aircraft and submarines.
At the beginning, Margarete says today, she and her girlfriends had no idea gruesome things were going on. A brief lecture was the extent of her training. Then they were put to work. Each day at 6 a.m., she and several other guards met a small group of prisoners at the front gate and marched them away. At lunch they returned, and in the afternoon she awaited a new assignment or went out again with the same crew. At first, she told Jacobeit, she was homesick and tearful, but it developed into a tedious routine.
The Ruhrchemie girls were afraid from the start of the tougher, veteran guards, according to Margarete. In fact, scores of survivor accounts document the guards' brutality toward the prisoners. The most sadistic guards, in the barracks, forced women to stand barefoot for hours in subfreezing weather, kicked and beat them, and goaded German shepherds to maul their legs. Deputy head overseer Dorothea Binz personally whipped those sent to the camp jail; one survivor recalled Binz, who was later executed for war crimes, forcing her to eat mud-soaked bread "like a dog." Meanwhile, beatings were also common among the guards on work detail, delivered to anyone who slowed production.
Prisoners do recall a few kind young women who took risks trying to make life easier for them, and Margarete, while not claiming any heroism, says she did her best to be kind. She never struck a soul, she says. And, most importantly, at no time, she has insisted from the start, did she actually enter the prisoners' compound. By night, she lived in an SS barracks beyond the camp walls.
"We didn't know, not until the very end," she told a German TV interviewer in 1999, echoing the evasion offered by most Germans of her generation. "We had no choice."
She had just one goal, she said -- to keep her head down and stay out of trouble. It was advice her father gave, when, later that autumn, she was sent to guard a transport of prisoners back to the Ruhr. He was furious to learn where she worked, she said, but she and her friends had been cowed, afraid of the camp Kommandant's order to stop crying or they'd wind up in the camp themselves.
Still, by February 1945, the girls from the Ruhr had taken a step up the SS ladder: Leni and Friedchen were assigned to one of the coveted chalets overlooking the lake, and, after a bout of typhus, Margarete squeezed in a bed, too. "It was a real nice little house," she recalled, while showing Jacobeit through it on her first visit, pointing out the spots where the wardrobes had been, the beds. The rooms were all decorated "with rugs and curtains, and such, from the storehouses -- thick and very modern rugs." On moving in, she was surprised to find a silk comforter waiting on her bed. Each of the guards had one -- looted, like the rugs, from the goods stripped from incoming prisoners. "They had just hauled in all the Jews from France," Margarete recalled in a videotaped interview with Ravensbrueck historians in 2004. "And they always brought their best things, didn't they?"
On the videotape, she smiles, then falters. "I didn't like it -- I always folded it down," she hastily adds.
Nonetheless, she admits grasping eagerly at the perks allowed by the SS leadership: nightly outings to the cinema in nearby Fuerstenberg or the SS theater outside the camp gate, dinners in town, flirting with the SS men and, later, the Siemens engineers. "Dancing was not allowed," Margarete says, with a little giggle, "but we all had boyfriends. The men were allowed to come over in the evenings."
Most of Margarete's memories glitter with the energy of that long-ago youth. She was always bold, a little reckless, she concedes. She didn't make curfew, she chatted with German-speaking prisoners and her friends; she exploited a swollen leg to beg off work. "But there was always this fear, this fear at the back of your neck," she says.
Still, when ordered to accompany the Ruhr transport to the Buchenwald concentration camp in late 1944, for example, she balked. "I was afraid of being stuck with all those tough guards," she said. "I just wanted to be with my friends." So she staged a hunger strike, then faked a pregnancy and, at last, won the return to Ravensbrueck she sought. When she was ordered to explain, she conveniently burst into tears. More than anything, she says today, she wanted to have fun.
"It was my youth, you see, even if it wasn't much of a youth, and we didn't know the worst of what was going on. Truthfully -- we felt so free! The landscape was beautiful, the weather was heavenly."
Margarete felt sorry for the prisoners, she has said, but could not help them. "You had to put your life on the line," she says. "And I wanted to live." Yes, she'd seen the deep wounds on the prisoners' legs, seen other guards hit them. But she did not dwell on it; she shied from "this fear, this threat, which came from the camp." She told the TV reporter in 1999, "You could turn your brain off, if you tried."
When she is asked on camera about the prisoners, her face goes blank. She struggles, then inevitably launches into a happier anecdote: How the prisoners shared their food with her. How much fun they all had roasting potatoes in a field. The times they lied to cover for her, when she had to go to the toilet. "I had a lot of sympathy for them," she murmured in 1999. "And they had a lot for us, too!"
Yet for all these happy memories, the nine months Margarete Barthel worked at Ravensbrueck were the most hideous in the camp's history. While more than 1,000 women a month were dying from the inhuman conditions, skeletal Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz and other eastern camps arrived in waves, evacuated ahead of the approaching Soviet army. With them came the Auschwitz executioners. In short order, Ravensbrueck shifted to the systematic murder of "excess" prisoners unable to work. Kommandant Fritz Suhren ordered a gas chamber built, and the barracks guards began selecting the sick and injured for transfer to the adjacent Uckermark death camp, where as many as 6,000 were gassed or shot.
It was then, Margarete says, that she began to understand what was really going on inside the walls. The executions that began in February 1945, historians say, were carried out in utmost secrecy. But in the morning the work detail guards would see the main gate open, the pavement wet. "From washing down the blood, we assumed," Margarete said. "Sometimes Leni would say, 'Did you hear the shooting last night?'" Later that warm spring, from their chalet, the closest to the camp wall, they'd see flames shooting out of the crematorium chimney. "My friend at the office said they were burning files, but it was a sweetish smell, nauseating. I said to Leni, 'Smell that. You know what, they're burning people in there,'" she recalls. "I'd tell Leni, 'Shut the window, it stinks.'"
Margarete wanted to forget; all of German society wanted to forget. And this vow of silence succeeded for a time. Then, in the 1960s, historians outside Germany began to document the precise dimensions of Germany's guilt. It was 20 more years before German historians began publishing accounts of the crimes, including the first book about the Holocaust that Margarete clearly remembers having bought and read. "It was on Bergen-Belsen," she says. Then she bought more books, and more. "I have Auschwitz . . ., the experiments, Ravensbrueck," she says, ticking them off. "Because we didn't know. There is so much in those books we simply didn't know."
Much of it, she says, was too gruesome for words. How the SS had dumped the ashes of murdered prisoners in the lake, for example. "I told Leni, and we were horrified; we said to ourselves, 'Thank God we never swam there.'"
The more she read, she says, the more she realized what she had been party to -- and the greater her desire to prove she had not been one of those "brutal guards." In the privacy of her living room, she set out on her long, tortuous effort to explain. From the first time she told her daughter, in the 1960s, Margarete stressed her own innocence: She was a draftee; Ruhrchemie, which had lied to her, was the guilty party. "We should have gotten together and sued the company, or gone to the British," she told Jacobeit. Over time, she emerged with a convoluted trope that she would repeat forever after. "I felt I was made innocently guilty -- you could say that, couldn't you?"
[...] Simone Erpel, 42, curator of the exhibit and an expert on Ravensbrueck's final years, says it is "self-serving nonsense" to assert, as Margarete does, that there were two kinds of guards. There was no categorical moral difference between the volunteers and the drafted -- there weren't even the two distinct uniforms Margarete has cited. Margarete, as she herself admitted, heard the gunshots, saw the flames and the corpses. She was, Erpel says, as much a part of the daily horror of Ravensbrueck as any other guard.
It is incontestable that Margarete set foot inside the camp, Erpel says. She ate her meals in the SS canteen inside the gate, overlooking the prisoners at roll call. After repeated denials, Margarete herself let slip in 2004 that this "could take your appetite away." Yet once off-duty, she bolted for the movies, the dinners of fried potatoes and wurst in town. She flirted and slept with a lover, like the rest of the guards.
Perhaps most damning, it's clear that Margarete had at least one opportunity to leave the camp. In the early spring of 1945, she was actually ordered to leave. She had developed thrombosis in one leg, making it painful to walk or to stand, and was deemed "unfit for work." But the freedom of being on her own, and the pull of her girlfriends and a Prussian lover, convinced her otherwise. The Americans had already crossed the Rhine, she says: Where was she supposed to go? She refused.
"When people don't consider the work they are doing in such a concentration camp as remarkable, or particularly awful, then why shouldn't they do what in any other situation they would do?" asks German social psychologist Harald Welzer, 47. "We all go dancing after work, meet friends."
This juxtaposition of horror by day and entertainment by night is typical of low-level Nazi perpetrators, says Welzer, whose newly published book -- a study of a German police battalion that shot tens of thousands of Jews in Poland during the war -- is titled Perpetrators: How Utterly Ordinary People Became Mass Murderers. It's one of many recent studies concluding that most of those who participated in the genocide were neither National Socialist zealots nor sociopaths, but average people who slipped, bit by bit, into evil. Virtually all the battalion's members, he says, considered what they were doing normal. It was simply a job -- unpleasant, sometimes upsetting, but ultimately necessary and unavoidable. "Very, very rarely do you have any evidence that any of these people felt they had done anything wrong," he told an audience in Berlin recently.
Erpel has documented cases of guards at Ravensbrueck who did refuse to serve in the camps. Refusing was difficult, indisputably, but it could be done. A woman could plead illness, elderly parents, fake a pregnancy; Margarete had already shown herself willing to do just that. More to the point, "there is not one documented case -- not one!" says Erpel vehemently, of a woman being punished for refusing to serve.
Welzer found the same. Even when police were explicitly excused from the mass slaughter of Jews, without adverse consequences, no more than 10 of 400 refused to shoot. "You realize with horror," he says, "that it was easier to decide to participate in mass murder than to break away from the dominant group."
Margarete Barthel -- like most -- chose to remain a guard out of fear and opportunism; there is little evidence that her own conscience troubled her that much at the time. In all the anecdotes, only once does she mention a moment in which the barbarity made her cry -- when a child was pulled, howling, from its mother's arms, outside what could only have been a death transport at the Ravensbrueck gate.
There was no justice done in the post-Nazi era. Not to speak of. It would have been inconvenient for everyone, not least of all the U.S. and British governments, which needed first to get their sectors (and that given to the French), and later West Germany, running, and then to keep the Federal Republic on the Western side.
As a rule I'm not a big fan of imprisonment for revenge. On the other hand, my feelings about the Nazis are highly emotional, just as are those of the family and friends of murder victims.
So my initial response has to be the completely unhelpful "I don't know."
I do tend to think that setting aside purposes of rehabilitation, punishments that do a society something constructively good, whether literally being put to work doing construction, or some form of labor or community service, tend to strike me as a far more valuable use of people and the effort necessary to deal with them than does simply locking them away. (Security issues are a separate matter.)
I don't think there really is any way to obtain true and sufficient justice for mass murders, whatever the scale. Even if we had all the will in the world. My imagination tends to run towards the poetic, and in cases of sufficiently cruel crimes, towards the cruel.
But I really don't know for sure. I'm not that wise.
It greatly angers me, though, and always has, that the Margarete Barthels, large and small, never were given justice, that their victims were never given justice, and worst of all, that no real effort was ever really made.
On the other hand, pursuing vengeance too far, allowing the hatred to capture one's own soul, poisons one's own self and soul.
And when I contemplate all this muchly, those are the times it would be nice if I believed in a God and attendent ability to turn it over to such an entity.
Unfortunately, all I can believe in is a very large universe, and where justice in it takes place, it seems to often be, at best, very late.
It's a very unsatisfactory answer, and I'll try to let you know if I find a better one.