My hand softly touched the thick glass of the exhibition. I swallowed deeply as a huge knot of grief and anger formed in my stomach. No, it couldn’t be … but deep in my heart I knew it had happened. The small safety razor and its blades in the small glass cabinet looked so innocent and ordinary. Nonetheless, it was a silent witness of crimes unimaginable and executed on innocent people. What had started as a trip with my police cadets to the memorial of the concentration camp of Flossenbürg, took an unforeseen personal turn that would from then onwards be a constant reminder in my daily routine.
Just a few weeks ago I had bought a safety razor. One of these „old style“ ones, where you could detach the double-edged blade while the rest would be reused. I wanted to preserve the environment and thought to myself: Why not first start with my daily routines? Small actions that cumulate make a big difference.
On that wintery October day it hit me directly into my face as I saw a double-edged razor with separate blades that almost looked identical to the one laying in my bath room. I couldn’t take my eyes of this device of daily hygiene, which once according to the description belonged an prisoner of the concentration camp Flossenbürg. It was taken away as an action of discrimination. Hygiene was not allowed in these death camps. What is natural to us – a nice shaved beard, neatly cut hair, hygiene of other body parts – was taken away from prisoners as an instrument of oppression and terror.
Hair is such an essential part of our human dignity. A part of our personal expression of self. The Nazi terror went further. It not only took away double-edged razors, which ensured a personal self-administered hygiene, like the one exhibited in Flossenbürg, but brutally stole human dignity by shaving the hair of every person entering with straight razors and replacing names by numbers. Those ensuring this terror were part of the „Schutzstaffel“, which in 1936 was united by Himmler with the police.
As I pointed my young police cadets to the small glass cabinet with the double-edged razor, they were equally astonished to see a hygienically product laying there, which is now very much in fashion. Many had bought one themselves to show that they would try to preserve the environment. Now it is an unforeseen reminder in their and my daily private routine. Every young police cadet, who is impacted by an encounter with the evil, murderous regime that took millions of innocent lives, is one ally more and a sign of hope in our broken world.
2 Gedanken zu “My dear Jewish friend 12: hygiene, human dignity and daily reminders”
Not that I have to shave daily anymore (and I had my bearded periods), but a way to dehumanize people would be to take away things they ordinarily practice. for men, that would be shaving. Permitting dignity does not cost much, nor does it take much time. As usual, a well-writeen, interesting post.
Es ist umenschlich, so zu handeln. Aber was kann man von einer Gewaltherrschaft erwarten?