PALESTINE: NIGHT AND FOG IN GAZA

Published March 3, 2024
Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip in October 2023 | Reuters
Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip in October 2023 | Reuters

The people of Gaza have nothing left: just night and fog —and a lot of blood. The perpetrators of this bloodshed are the descendants of those who themselves suffered tremendously at the hands of the Nazis in the 1930s and ’40s.

There are hundreds of movies that have depicted the Holocaust and which keep reminding the world that Nazis were monsters who exterminated Jews in the millions. Night and Fog is a documentary by French director Alain Resnais, made in 1955 to commemorate the fifth [10th?] liberation anniversary of Hitler’s concentration camps.

It is an award-winning short film using actual black and white footage shot inside these camps, as well as colour scenes of the death camps shot 10 years after the carnage ended. It is a journey of the horror that the victims had to go through.

The title is from the ‘Night and Fog’ decree that Hitler issued in December 1941, providing for the elimination of “persons endangering Germany’s security.” These individuals would vanish into the “night and fog” of Germany’s concentration and death camp system.

Text from a 1955 French documentary about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust rings eerily true for Palestinians in Gaza today

The 30-minute documentary features text spanning not more than 2,000 words. This text by Jean Cayrol, with a slight change, can also reflect the suffering of the Palestinians living their hell in Gaza right now. Read the following text with some edits (in italics) and see how similar the situation is in Gaza today.

“A peaceful landscape. An ordinary field with crows flying over it. An ordinary road…an ordinary village…a steeple and a fairground. This is the way to a concentration camp (Gaza). Gaza, Khan Yunis, Rafah, are names like any others on the map and guide books. The blood has dried…the tongue is silent, only the

camera goes round. Weeds have grown where the prisoners (Palestinians) used to walk… No footsteps are heard, except our own (Israeli forces). 1933 (2023). The machine gets underway. The nation (Israel) must sing in unison. No wrong note. No quarrels…work. The concentration camp is built like a grand hotel.

“You need contractors (American), estimates (from Europe), and competitive bids (perhaps from India). And no doubt friends in high places (Arabs? No?). Any style will do. The Swiss style. The garage style. A Japanese model. No style at all. The leisurely architects (strategists) planned the gates (protective walls), which no one will enter more than once... People go on living their everyday lives... The day comes when their blocks are rounded up. All they have to do is arrive. Rounded up in Warsaw (Gaza). Deported from Prague (Khan Yunis), Brussels (Rafah)... Interned... Arrested... Members of the resistance at Compiegne (West Bank).

“All those caught in the act, wrongly arrested, simply unlucky, make their way towards the camps. Anonymous trains (tanks), their doors locked well... 100 deportees (targets) to every wagon. Neither night nor day, neither hunger nor thirst, asphyxia or madness... Sometimes a message flutters down and is picked up. Death makes his first pick... Chooses again in the Night and Fog. Today on the same track, the sun shines. Go slowly along it, looking for...what? Traces of the bodies that fell to the ground, or the footmarks of those first arrivals.

“While the dogs barked and the search lights wheeled, as the incinerator flamed in the lurid decor so dear to the Nazis (Israeli forces). First sight of the camp — another planet. Nakedness. And the individual is surrendered to the camp... Caught up in the hierarchy of which he understands nothing… Classed sometimes as “Nacht und Nebel” (Night and Fog) … Common criminals are made masters among the underlings. Above them is the Kapo (military officer), again a common criminal as often as not. Still higher is the SS, the untouchable addressed at a distance. Highest of all is the Commandant. He pretends to know nothing about the camp...who doesn’t.

“Besides, now discover what remains of these camps. When it was despised by those there, and deluded those that suffered there. Those wooden blocks... These beds where three people slept... These burrows where people hid... Where they furtively eat and sleep, itself was a danger. No description can show the endless, uninterrupted fear. We should need the very mattress, the blanket that was fought over... The denunciations and oaths, the orders repeated in several tongues, the sudden checks by the SS (Israeli invaders). Only the husk and shade remain of this brick dormitory.

This file photo shows Palestinian boys who were arrested by patrolling Israeli soldiers and taken away in a four-wheel drive after having played with their toy guns in the Old City district of Hebron | EPA
This file photo shows Palestinian boys who were arrested by patrolling Israeli soldiers and taken away in a four-wheel drive after having played with their toy guns in the Old City district of Hebron | EPA

“Here is a setting — buildings that might be stables, garages, workshops; a piece of land that has become a wasteland. An autumn (winter) sky indifferent to everything... Evokes a night, shrill with cries, busy with fleas. Night of chattering teeth...to sleep quickly. Waking at dawn, people falling down, rolling over one another. Muster on the parade grounds. The night’s dead — throw them out. A band plays while they leave for the quarries or the factories (another destination for refuge). Work (walk) in snow that is soon frozen mud…thirst and dysentery. Three thousand Spaniards (Palestinians) died building this road that leads to the Mauthausen Quarry (Rafah).

“Month after month they dig deep down, hide themselves… But these workmen who weigh five stone (70 pounds) are unreliable. The SS (officer) watches them... Supervises, musters, inspects and frisks them before they return to camp. The Kapo only has to count the day’s victims. The deportees (displaced) return to the obsession of life and dreams — food. Soup spoons are worth their weight in gold. Two or three cigarettes are bartered for a plate of soup. Many are too weak to defend their portions. They wait for the mud and the snow.

“To lie down anywhere and die one’s own death. The latrines and their approaches. Skeletons with baby flesh came here seven or eight times a night. The soup saw to that. Woe to him who met a Kapo rolling drunkenly home in the dark. They watched one another in fear; on the lookout for the familiar symptoms...passed blood was the sign of death. The black market...clandestine buying, clandestine killing... You called on your friends, exchanged rumours and news. Organised resistance groups... Gradually society developed its form...the image of terror. Lust mad was the SS…

“’To each his due.’ ‘A Louse means death.’ What about a storm trooper? Each camp (Palestinian town) had its surprises. A symphony orchestra... A zoo... Hothouses where Himmler (Netanyahu) cultivates rare blooms. Goethe’s Oak at Buchenwald...the camp was built around it. The orphanage...short-lived but constantly restarted. An invalid bay... Then the real world...the world of the past. Seems far, yet not so far? For the deportees it was an image. You belonged only to this self-contained universe. Hemmed in by observation posts where the behaviour of the camp was watched. Soldiers spied on the deportees, killing them on occasion, having nothing better to do. Everything is a pretext. Humiliation...

A still from the film exposed the terrible conditions Jews faced in concentration camps in Germany
A still from the film exposed the terrible conditions Jews faced in concentration camps in Germany

“Pass unnoticed...make no sign to the gods. They have their gallows, their sacrilege grounds. This yard in Block X has been especially arranged for executions. Notice the walls protected against ricocheting bullets… When the body is worn out, fatigued, the mind works on… Train the memory with dreams. They can think of God… They look after friends worse off than themselves. They share their food with friends. It is a great act of courage to take the dying to the hospital. Approach this door...can you hope for a real bed? And there was the risk of death by syringe.

“The medicines were make-believe. The same ointment is used on every sore. Sometimes the starving eat their dressings. In the long run, all the deportees conformed...but died with their eyes open. There was a surgical block. It almost looked like a nursing home. A doctor... A disquieting nurse? What is behind this set-up and scene? Useless apparatus, amputations…mutilations… A few of these guinea pigs survived... The flesh of some will be marked for life — despite their return. Names are also noted. Names of 22 nations (Palestinian towns). Filling hundreds of registers...thousands of indexes. The dead have red strokes through their names. Deportees keep these mad, always inaccurate books…

“The war seems distant — not to end. Perhaps she seems bored… Useless to describe what went on in these cells. In cages so designed they could not lie or stand...men and women were constantly punished for days on end. The air holes were not sound-proof. A visit from Himmler (Netanyahu). Destruction but productivity. Leaving the production aspect to others, Himmler concentrates on the destruction. Plans... Models are studied...are carried out... The incinerator could be made to look like a picture postcard. Latter-day tourists are themselves photographed in them.

“Deportations spread all over Europe (Palestine). The convoys lose their way, stop, then start again...are bombed and finally arrive. For some the choice is already made for them… Killing by hand takes time… The doors were closed... The only sign that you have to know is the ceiling...scored by fingernails. Even the concrete was torn. 1945 (2024) the camps were full and spreading; towns of 100,000 inhabitants — full house everywhere. Hermann Goering recruits labour force here (India?). The Nazis (Israel) may win the war — these new towns are part of their economy. But they lose... There is no coal for the incinerators, no bread for the men.

“The camp streets are strewn with corpses, typhus... Deportees look on without understanding. Are they free? Will life know them again? ‘I am not responsible,’ says the Kapo. ‘I am not responsible,’ says the Officer. ‘I am not responsible.’ Who is responsible then? As I speak to you now, icy water lies in the hollows of the carnal houses. Water as sluggish as our own bad memories. War nods, but has one eye open, but faithful as ever the grass flourishes on the muster grounds, around the blocks. An abandoned village still heavy with threads. The furnaces are no longer in use. The skill of the Nazis is child’s play today.

“Who is on the lookout from the strange watchtowers to warn us of our new executioner’s arrival? Are their faces really different from ours? Somewhere in our misty life, Kapos survive... Reinstated officers and anonymous informers. These and those reluctant...believing from time to time. There are those who look upon these ruins today, as though the monster were dead and buried beneath them.

“Those who take hope again as the images fade, as though there were a cure for the scourge of all those camps. Those who opined it happened only once. Those who have at a certain time and a certain place... Those that refuse to look around them... Deaf to the endless cry.”

The writer is a columnist and educator.
He can be reached at Mnazir1964@yahoo.co.uk
X: @NaazirMahmood

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 3rd, 2024

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