The Man Who Saw Too Much, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer presenter, producer and director Alan Yentob and Jill Nicholls.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bqt9/the-man-who-saw-too-much

The story of 106-year-old Boris Pahor is a eulogy to the twentieth century. The man who saw too much and experienced too much is a testament to man’s inhumanity to man. He wrote a memoir, Necropolis- City of the Dead about his incarceration in a little-know Nazi concentration camp, Natzweiler-Struthhof in the mountainous regions of Alsace, France.

He was also sent to Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Dora, Harzungen, Ironically, Natzweiler was one of the first concentration camps liberated by the Allies, but it was empty. Prisoners were sent to Dachau, but it was Natwieler he judged to be the most cruel. His account is illustrated by drawings by fellow prisoners.

Pahor’s ability to speak several languages, his native Slovenian, Italian, French and I imagine a bit of German saved him. It allowed him to get a job inside the barracks as a translator for the camp doctor an Austrian, who also trained him to be a diarrhoea nurse. Almost half of the 52 000 prisoners were executed, died of illness or malnutrition or died outside working in the granite quarry in sub-zero temperatures. A mountainous region, each step going up the graded slope to work was recalled as the equivalent of Christ on the road to Calvary.  The camp produced a particular type of red stone favoured by Hitler’s architects who created public buildings in honour of the thousand-year Reich.

Pahor was sent to the camp because he was considered to be an anti-fascist. He was arrested in September 1943.

Fascism comes from the term fasces, a bundle of rods with a projected axe blade, a symbol of the magisterial power in ancient Rome.

The neologism fascism was associated with the rise of Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain and Hitler in Germany. A megalomaniac belief in the strong-man theory of history. A contempt for the democratic process and calls for its suspension so the great man can act on behalf of the people.

Pahor, for example, recalls his upbringing in the cosmopolitan Slovenian port city of Trieste with access to the Adriatic being taken over by Italy after the first world war. As a precursor to Kristallnacht, Mussolini’s blackshirts burned down the Slovene cultural centre, closed their schools and banned the speaking of their language in public. School lessons were in Italian. Pahor, the anti-fascist was drafted into Mussolini’s army to fight the anti-fascist Allied forced.

Fascism = Capitalism.

Mussolini, the former Communist and man of the people, had a mandate to rule given by aristocracy, landowners and the moneyed classes. In contemporary terms it was based on deregulation. The bogey men of communism and working men organising themselves into trade unions was outlawed. Deregulation meant no regulation, the whip hand was with the rich and only the poor paid taxes.

King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy’s intervention in the second world war and his late backing of the Allied forces led to the arrest of Mussolini at the end of July, 1943. One fascist force replaced another. The German’s sprung Mussolini from prison and took control of the defence of Italy and split the country among fascist and non-fascist supporters.

An estimated 600 000 joined the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy, around 70 000 of whom were women. Pahore was caught with a typewriter and accused of producing anti-fascist leaflets. So begins his odyssey in the death camps.

Primo Levi, Italian Jew, in his memoir, If This Is a Man asked a question what is it to be truly human?

Necropolis –City of the Dead is the answer. Them and us.  The ersatz category of subhuman that fight each other over a finger-tip of bread while mining pink-coloured rock that has decorative value. Capitalism in its purest form can be found here. Fascism and the strong man theory of history have made a dramatic comeback. Boris Pahor tells it like it is. He saw too much. We understand too little. This is a Boris you can trust.   

Imagine…Richard Flanagan: Life After Death. Interview by Alan Yentob

richard flanagan

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b063lywk/imagine-summer-2015-5-richard-flanagan-life-after-death

I didn’t know it but I like Richard Flanagan, even though I’ve not read any of his books. Grandson of illiterates and descended from criminals transported to Tasmania, his father revered books but to be an author was not something he expected. A drowning accident in which he seemed to understand for a moment the interconnectedness of all things changed that. He continued working, but knew at a deeper level his real job in this life was to write.

I’ll rectify not reading any of his books. Order The Narrow Road to the Deep North which won the Man booker prize in 2014. I know I’ll love it. Flanagan talks about his dad taken prisoner during the Second World War by the Japanese and forced to build the Burmese railway that inspired, among others tales about Hellfire Pass and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Flanagan talks about visiting Thailand were the railway passed through and also visiting one of the guards in Japan that had tortured his dad. ‘The Lizard’ beat one of his father’s friends to death, with two other guards, in front of 300 prisoners, who were forced to stand impotently and watch. Man’s inhumanity to man. The Lizard, now an old man, Flanagan describes him as affable. But he wanted to experience what it was like for him, the torturer, to be in the Japanese army of Emperor Hirohito, where senior soldiers beating junior soldiers was a common form of control. Other races such as the Chinese were seen as inferior. In the Rape of Nanking of 1937-38, for example, an estimated civilian population of between 100 000 and 300 000 were killed and mutilated with up to 100 000 woman raped. Soldiers such as the British and Australian, including Flanagan’s father, who despite superior numbers surrendered Hong Kong without much of a fight were also seen as inferior. At the bottom of this chain of command was the prison guard, a level above other guards not racially pure such as the Koreans, but miles above the men they were guarding who were regarded as expendable.   He got the Lizard to slap him across the face. A ritual form of humiliation. Yentob asks Flanagan if he found it difficult to enter into, indeed empathise with, people like the Lizard. Flanagan’s answer that he didn’t find it hard to find the monster within, which is wisdom and a watchword when the evil twins of indifference and inhumanity are let loose are they so often are in contemporary society.

Flanagan himself experienced corporate and state-sponsored hatred and persecution. In 2007 he published an article, Gunns: ‘Out of Control’ in The Tasmanian Times showing clearly the links between state and corporate interests and pollution of Tasmanian forests in which the company Gunns, which did 85% of tree felling, benefited a few select shareholders but at a devastating cost to the community and his country. His fictional account The Unknown Terrorist has its roots in that dark period in which he told Alan Yentob not only was it a terrorist offence to challenge corporate interests, but reporters reporting on those arrested for such terrorists offences could also be arrested as terrorists. Sometime fact can be stranger than fiction – and you really couldn’t make it up. Ted Genoways The Chain made similar claims about the way factory food is farmed and produced and protected by state interests in America –all in the name of jobs- but with devastating environmental and social impacts. The gagging of those involved in uncovering the hidden costs is also treated as a terrorist offence. I’ve went off track, but Richard Flanagan down under is on top of what it means to be human.