“You mustn’t think that we are monsters; we are the same as you, only much more unhappy.”
– A Sonderkommando in Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved
Dear Kim Moon-shine,
I was delighted to read your last letter.
Your words remind me of my late friend Kim Loon-shine. Both of you rely on the same favorite expressions to make a strong point.
Kim, it pleases me immensely to see more than a chip of the old block in you.
Your father was an extremely well-read man.
Since European history and contemporary America were Kim Loon-shine’s favorite subjects, I wonder if he ever discussed the dreadful Sonderkommandos with you.
In this note, I’ll address the United States of Sonderkommandos, a subject your father and I talked about frequently. (If your father had warned you about the Sonderkommandos, then much of what I write today will be old hat to you.)
The great majority of average American people are Sonderkommandos, exemplars of avarice, ignorance, sadism and hubris, afflicted with a combat mind-set, interpersonally exploitative, completely indifferent to the suffering they inflict on fellow members of the human race, and contemptuous of any social contract to build a society that works for the benefit of all.
These are the Vichy followers, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Nixon’s Silent Majority, the putos and putas of Junot Díaz’ stories, Karl Marx’ lumpenproletariat and Plutarch’s philobarbaros (lover of barbarians) and the Vidkun Quislings.
The ancient Roman ideal of res publica (the common good) is completely alien to American Sonderkommandos who cannot think beyond themselves.
Thanks to Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, the diary of Auschwitz victim Zalman Gradowski and writers like Gideon Greif, we know about Sonderkommandos, the Jewish rats in the Belsec, Treblinka, Auschwitz and Majdanek extermination camps of Nazi Germany.
For an extra half-liter of soup, a piece of bread, an occasional bottle of liquor or a cigarette, or a warm room, Sonderkommandos gladly disposed off the bodies of their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, friends and strangers who were gassed or worked to death by Nazis.
Sonderkommandos were described as crematoria raven because of the nature of their work.
Primo Levi is Wrong
Kim, in one respect your father and I disagreed with Primo Levi and other writers on the Jewish Sonderkommandos.
We did not believe, not for a moment, that Sonderkommandos in the concentration camps had no choice and were compelled by the SS guards to carry out the dreadful task of facilitating the killing process.
Au contraire, the Sonderkommandos in the Nazi camps displayed an insane greed for life, an unseemly lust for food and a bizarre longing for better living conditions even as Europe’s vast Jewish family was being slaughtered around them.
Far from being victims themselves, the Sonderkommandos were just a step below the dreaded Kapos in the Nazi killing system.
Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum writes:
“Sonderkommando were the most desperate when the killing slowed” because they thought they’d be put to death once the trains stopped rolling into the camps.
Although initially shocked and upset, most Sonderkommandos “adjusted” to their tasks. A common refrain in stories of surviving Sonderkommandos like Yaakov Gabai is that they got “used to it.”
Israeli historian Gideon Greif writes in an essay on Sonderkommandos:
“The work became routine, the tears dried up over time, the mind had grown numb, cries of the murdered were ignored, the corpses became like pieces of wood.”
Born in the USA
Millions mistakenly believe Sonderkommandos to be a morbid Nazi invention born in the foul miasma of the Lagers (short for Konzentrationslager, German for concentration camps).
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Nazi monsters likely patterned Sonderkommandos after average American people, the vast army of savage, racist, ravenous beasts consumed by greed, completely alien to compassion, devoid of all human virtues and for whom the idea of a social contract for the welfare of all was anathema.
When he’s not into one of his frequent eating, drinking, buying, screwing and sadistic binges, the average American Sonderkommando prefers the blissful stupor of “Non-thinking” that John Galt railed against in twentieth-century literature’s most famous monolog.
Like Hitler’s vast army of willing executioners (the common German people), American Sonderkommandos (the plebs sordida or average American people) are complicit in various degrees to the crimes of their Sonderführers (leaders).
American Sonderkommandos and Sonderführers are cut from the same cloth, rise from the same abyss and share the Nazi view of society’s weak, ailing, unfortunate and poor as Untermenschen (inferior or subhuman beings).
American soil has always been fertile ground for Sonderkommandos since, like Caligula’s Rome, the United States is “a theater of cruelty and excess.”
The American Way is invariably cruelty toward the weak and vulnerable (Blacks, Latinos and other immigrants), excessive blessings for the privileged few and frequent bloody overseas adventures.
Only in America would we find the grotesque spectacle of a few hundred people earning several hundred million dollars a year while tens of millions must get by on starvation wages of $7.25 an hour or less.
Long before the world discovered German insanity in concentration camps and Japanese sadism in China, American Sonderkommandos had honed brutality and torture into a fine art.
Countless native Indians, Blacks and foreigners experienced repeated brutalities at the hands of American Hannibals.
No law passed by a legislature or a rule written in a book can restrain Sonderkommandos.
Like the Joker in Dark Knight (2008), American Sonderkommandos believe, “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”
American Plebs Sordida
The infamy of American Sonderkommandos is as old as the republic itself.
Nonpareil in morbidity and unequalled in hypocrisy, American Sonderkommandos declare they wish to bring the twin blessings of Democracy and Freedom to the rest of the world.
So they enthusiastically support leaders who order the bombing of weak nations that dare to disagree with America’s cruel and immoral demands, refuse to kneel before the might of its weaponry or blow the imperial tip of its bayonets.
Opinion polls by Gallup show most U.S. wars have been popular with the American rabble at the outset. The aftershock of belated outrage comes only when the war begins to go badly and the bodybags arrive at the Dover Air Force base.
American Sonderkommandos never object to their military deposing and murdering democratically elected foreign leaders who refuse to toe the U.S. line.
America’s allies (current and past) are dictators in Egypt, Chile, Iran, Chad, Indonesia, Philippines, El Salvador, Pakistan, South Korea, Liberia, Argentina and Saudi Arabia who butcher their people on flimsy grounds, deny basic rights to women, fund and support terrorism, encourage Islamic militants and abuse immigrants.
In America’s close South Asian ally Pakistan, human rights are non-existent and a thousand young girls are murdered every year in what’s bizarrely known as “honor killings” in the region. Many of the murdered girls are like the teenager Zeenat, burned alive (on June 8, 2016) for daring to marry a boyfriend.
Yet, ignoring countless human rights violations, America sells or donates billions in arms and alms to Pakistan every year.
The American people, our Sonderkommandos, have no issues with their “exceptional” nation cozying up to dictators all over the world.
Like John Cheever’s Radio Girl Irene Westcott from the 1947 story The Enormous Radio, American Sonderkommandos see “evil” only in others, never in themselves. As Irene tells her husband Jim after listening to the “radio chatter” of their neighbors:
“Life is too terrible, too sordid and awful. But we’ve never been like that, have we, darling? Have we? I mean, we’ve always been good and decent and loving to one another, haven’t we? And we have two children, two beautiful children. Our lives aren’t sordid, are they, darling.”
There you have it.
In the American make believe world, the Sonderkommandos have “always been good and decent and loving.”
It’s always the other people who’re sordid, mean and despicable.
If you’ve read The Enormous Radio, you know Irene is as wicked, perhaps worse, as the other people in their Manhattan apartment building.
The five Gods that American Sonderkommandos beat off to every day are Yapping, Shopping, Sadism, Sex and Jesus.