The Theory and Practice of Hell, by E. Kogen, translated by Heinz Norden. (Seeker and Warburg. 18s.)
Reviewed by FR. C. C. MARTINDALE, Si.
IT is tragic that this book re quired to be written, and translated, and that its sober title: The SS State: the System of the German Concentration Camp. had to be so sensationalised if American or British readers were to attend to it.
We do not want to look back to " unhappy far-off things" the tragedy is that those very things, and worse (because often more subtly engineered) are going on now. The author, a very widely-read and widely-travelled man, was for 18 months a Gestapo prisoner, and indeed in Buchenwald itself. His credentials arc outside of dispute_ The Publishers' Introduction " suffices, though unnecessarily, to set our minds at rest about the author's good faith and personal experience.
The "S.S.Schutz-Staffel" plan aimed not at all only at the elminalion of human elements regarded as undesirable, but at the formation of a sort of man who should be "aristocratical," like, it was ignorantly supposed, that which produced the " great cultural achievements of antiquity."
Five to ten per cent. of the finest flower should rule : the rest must work and obey. This meant a positive selection of young men who could be trained to share in public affairs, and the "extermination of all racially and biologically inferior elements and by the radical removal of all incorrigible political opposition that refuses on principle to acknowledge the philosophical basis of the Nazi Stale."
E have, then, firmly to put out of our heads the idea that the facts (which are so horrible that we can hardly believe them) were primarily a getting rid of people whom tbe Government disliked, but, ftrst and foremost, the creation of a ruling "Class" which should owe no allegiance save to the ideal State, in the concrete, to Hitler. The notion was even more Himmler's than Hitler's.
This led up, logically, to the removal of anyone who interfered (even by his sheer existence) with the notion of the Almighty State, but not. alas, to the unchaining of a brutality that we might have thought had been "civilised" out of modern human nature.
Interned in Denmark, I had realised in a small way the effect on nerves due to living close to the "execution park," to meeting men whose nails had been torn off, or who had escaped (changed out of all recognition) from the very mild local prisons. This extremely level-headed book (the author is a Catholic, but any truthful man could write just what he does) tells you objectively all about gas-chambers, mass murders, elaborate tortures, about the discipline, food, sanitation, " recreation," of concentration camps, but (almost more horrible than all) the
" scientific " experiments performed on human guinea-pigs.
But his chapters 22 and 23 disclose the "psychology " of those who were "conditioned" to control such camps, and of those who suffered within them.
SAID that it was " tragic " that such a book should have to be written, translated, and " publicised ": but this does not at all mean that I am asking readers to dig up memories of " forgotten far-off things." still less, that I want anyone to think ill of Germans that would be quite un-Catholic and un-Christian-but I do ask those who read this book (as, I fear, we all ought to) to realise what happens once God and spiritual things are excluded. The Wild Beast is latent in all of us. The moment you cut out God, up he comes (as St. John foretold) from the abysses of a God-less humanity. No "culture," no official " welfare" plans, will make any difference to this.
This book shows, without argument, what happened in Germany. Several more books, apparently, are needed before we can get into our thick skulls what happens under Russian control.
But we ought to know that end of the argument, and then, to examine ourselves how far our Catholic conscience is concerned with " individual salvation "-is it all right if / confess " my " mortal sin, or has this mattered to anyone else-to the community ? But a review must not turn into a sermon. though would that more sermons got down to actualities, as Christ our Lord always did, as a starting-point.