Friday, November 24, 2006

Jack Werber and his Palestinian Hanging

The New York Times yesterday published the obituary of 92-year-old Jack Werber, a survivor of Nazi death camps who was instrumental in helping save the lives of several hundred interned Jewish youngsters, a story told in a book he co-wrote, “Saving Children: Diary of a Buchenwald Survivor and Rescuer.”

The writer for the Times, Dennis Hevesi, ended his obit with this paragraph:
"But bad memories did not fade. A photograph, now infamous, emerged after the war, Professor Helmreich pointed out. It shows three prisoners at Buchenwald. Two are hanging by ropes tied to their hands behind their backs, suspended from a tree. A third prisoner is on the ground. It is Mr. Werber, the professor said, “an officer standing over him with stick under his arm, looking down, a foot jutting into him.”
Professor Helmreich is William Helmreich, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College, who was Werber's co-author of the 1996 memoir.

The man lying face down in the photograph appears lifeless to me. A logical interpretation of the image is that the man has just been cut down after being hung. If the man is Werber, why was he being punished? Didn't he have a high status in the camp as a "barracks clerk?" At what date after the war did Werber's claim of being the man in the picture emerge? Did Helmreich and Werber's 1996 book carry the identification? Why did Werber wait 52 years to write of his experiences at age 82? Would his memory be trustworthy then? Are there any corroborating witnesses or evidence? Is the reference to the officer having a stick under his arm meant to imply Werber has been, or will be, beaten? The web site identifies the SS officer as Buchenwald's chief warden, Martin Sommer, known as the Hangman of Buchenwald. He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of prisoners. Why would Sommer punish Werber with a flogging at a place of hanging?

If Werber has falsely, or mistakenly, identified himself as the man lying face down in the picture, what does that say about Jewish survivorship and victim-hood? That this most serious punishment---reserved for the gravest crimes in the camps, such as industrial sabotage---would be claimed by a surviving clerk, who later went on to success making Davy Crockett coonskin caps, is, if true, millennial in its madness.

In Jane Meyer's piece in the November 14, 2005 issue of The New Yorker titled, A Deadly Interrogation: Can the C.I.A. legally kill a prisoner? she writes,
"The Associated Press quoted an expert who described the position in which Jamadi died as a form of torture known as “Palestinian hanging,” in which a prisoner whose hands are secured behind his back is suspended by his arms. (The technique has allegedly been used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)"
She is talking about Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi "ghost prisoner" who died in Abu Ghraib after a brief "interrogation" at the hands of covert C.I.A. operatives. As may be clear in the Nazi-era photograph, contributing to death is the dislocating of the arms and the collapsing of the thoracic cavity, which leads to asphyxiation. In other words, it is a crucifixion.

Meyer's writing in The New Yorker on the difficult topic of torture has been superbly balanced and nuanced. So I was surprised when I nearly passed over her delicate parenthetical contextualization of "Palestinian hanging," without its meaning registering. Who named it that?

Well obviously, the name was given by the Israelis, who must utilize the horrible and gruesome practice with some frequency to have come up with an insider term as code to use among themselves.

This is not to say that Palestinians haven't also resorted to this sort of torture, just logically they wouldn't name it after themselves.

To spend time looking through internet archives of images of the Nazi holocaust against the Jews in the 1930's and 40's, puts in context the terrible images that flow out of Iraq and Gaza and Lebanon today. It helps me to feel forgiveness for what are, in my opinion, the bullying, amoral tactics of Jewish perpetrators, by knowing that these outrages aren't recent inventions of evolving sick minds, rather they are based in an explainable fear, which must be challenged with sympathy and support for the underdogs.

The Jews are trapped in a cycle of victimization and violence, repeating over and over, off the map and into the sea.

But having joined in an unwise and unholy alliance with American Evangelical Christian groups, combined with the crooked corporate interests who launched George Bush's evil political career, they have become the perpetrators of a destabilizing terroristic threat against Americans like myself. Oddly enough, through Bush, Bandar and George, they share the onus of the Salafism and Islamism of the corrupt ruling family of Saudi Arabia.

For Mr. Werber to self-identify not only as a survivor, but also as a rescuer, adding on an unseemly claim to be the tortured man in an infamous photograph is an illogical overreaching. But it also is a clear sign of God's presence in our affairs. Mr. Werber lived a long and good and successful life--more importantly, he timed his death expertly. May his passing help trigger the self-examination necessary for peace. Victims of unimaginable savagery, through fear Jews now have became as bad, if not worse, than the Nazi sadists who nearly extinguished the race.

On edit, Dec. 26, 2008:

According to this web site, the photograph below is of a photographic display and was taken in the Museum at Dachau in May 2001.

A note says, "The photo, which is a recreation of the 'tree hanging punishment at Buchenwald,' is not included in the new Museum at Dachau which opened in May 2003."

"According to Harold Marcuse, Professor of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara, this scene was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film, which is why the photo is no longer used [at the museum.] Reference: H. Obenaus, "Das Foto vom Baumhängen: Ein Bild geht um die Welt," in Stiftung Topographie des Terrors Berlin (ed.), Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief no. 68, Berlin, October 1995, pp. 3-8."

Clearly a variation of the same scene, perhaps Marcuse and Helmreich should compare notes.


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