Archive for March, 2019

Azim Premji – Art of ‘Giving’ …

Posted on March 26, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

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A Hitler Concentration Camp …

Posted on March 25, 2019. Filed under: The Germans |

Extracted from Anju Basu’s Article in The Wire – 

Dachau was the first of the Nazi ‘concentration’ camps. Commissioned on 22 March 1933, within two months of Hitler’s appointment as the Reich Chancellor, it was also the last among the big camps to be liberated.

Sitting deep inside one of the Third Reich’s most fiercely-guarded regions, Dachau was stormed only on 29 April 1945, a day before Hitler killed himself.

Dachau, then, was one of the most enduring institutions of Nazism, rising and falling with the Third Reich itself, as grotesque and brutal as the regime that conceived it. Auschwitz, Treblinka and Buchenwald had, in the end, gorier report cards, but Dachau, the ‘model camp’, took its pride of place in the pantheon of Nazi death camps.

Every other major camp copied Dachau’s layout and building plans. Each had a similar command centre (with its living quarters, administrative blocks and army barracks); the prisoner enclosures were erected with the same fussy attention to deadly detail (electrically-charged barbed wire  fencing, a three-metre-wide ‘neutral zone’ inside the fence which was under 24X7 surveillance from the watchtowers so that an accidental straggler could be put down instantly); a ditch around the fence; and, finally, the camp’s logo – Arbeit Macht Frei (‘Work makes you free’) – emblazoned on the main prisoner gate, that greeted the hapless inmates of most other camps also with the same macabre relish. A

Dachau’s crown jewel, the extensive SS training school located on the camp premises, boasted of illustrious alumni like Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Hess, whose personal viciousness had few equals, even inside the Nazi ranks.

Eichmann headed the ‘Race and Resettlement Office’ while Hess, as commandant of Auschwitz, was the master of ceremonies at one of the greatest death orgies in history: no fewer than 1.1 million people were exterminated under his watchful eye.

Hitler’s great hopes of sweeping the early-March, 1933 national elections were dashed, even though the Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February, which suspended virtually all civil liberties and made it possible to throw the entire Communist Party (KPD) leadership behind bars, had put strong winds into his sails.

The repression and terror had to be stepped up, and a prison system built on an altogether new model was needed to address the needs of the evolving situation. The Nazi Party (NSDAP) had won the Bavaria state elections and, right away in early March, Heinrich Himmler, Munich’s Chief of Police, started working on the project so that, as an NSDAP press statement chillingly, said at the time:

“(a)ll Communists and – where necessary – ….. Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security (could) be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual prisoners in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons ….”

An abandoned munitions factory complex in the little town of Dachau, a little distance from Munich, took Himmler’s fancy, and there, on 22 March 1933, the first ‘concentration camp for political prisoners’, with the capacity to hold 5,000 persons, was born. The first detainees were predominantly Communist Party of Germany (KPD) leaders.

In subsequent years, though, Dachau’s scope was enlarged to take in the many different kinds of enemies of the Nazi state, the ‘human bastards’ or ‘three typical sub-human specimens’ as these unfortunates are variously described in a December 1936 Nazi poster displayed at the Dachau memorial museum today: ‘Communist– Work-Shy – Professional Criminal –Jewish national (volks) criminal’.

An exhibit from the museum’s gallery. Credit: Anjan Basu

An exhibit from the museum’s gallery. Credit: Anjan Basu

It is unlikely that the detainees harboured any illusions about what awaited them here, but just in case some of them were still innocent, their ‘orientation programme’, where the camp commandant addressed them on arrival, settled those issues for good. Thus Josef Jarolin, Commandant in 1941/42, lovingly reminded newly-arrived prisoners, “You are without rights, dishonourable and defenceless. You’re a pile of shit and that’s how you are going to be treated.”A

Appropriately, the arrival of the first batch of detainees at Dachau coincided with the ratification, by the parliament, of its own death warrant – the Enabling Act of 23 March 1933.

The Act vested in Hitler the authority to legislate on any issue in any manner he liked without the parliament’s approvalLike Dachau, the Enabling Act was also to be dissolved only after Hitler’s death.

Himmler and his entourage inspecting one of the first detainees in Dachau. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Himmler and his entourage inspecting one of the first detainees in Dachau. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

How many prisoners did Dachau take in, overall? Records are inaccurate at best, but the Museum’s archives document details of over 200,200, mostly men, but also some women and juveniles who arrived in the camp’s final months. The number of the dead, again, is a crude estimate ranging between 35,000 and 50,000.

The demographics of the detainees were as varied as the causes of the deaths. German and Austrian political prisoners, war prisoners from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, the Balkan states, France and Russia, over 2,700 (predominantly Catholic) clergymen who opposed Nazism, and, of course, Jews made up the prison population. Most Jewish prisoners – who wore yellow badges – were brought in after the November 1938 outrage known as Kristallnacht (‘Night of Broken Glass’).

True to the Nazi racial orthodoxy, a strict hierarchy was sought to be preserved even within the prison population (by, among other things, scrupulous adherence to a system of coloured badges): thus, Polish priests faced far harsher treatment than their German brethren; they were also picked for the atrocious ‘medical experiments’ more often than any other population group.

These ‘experiments’ covered the human body’s response to hypothermia (followed by scalding), rapid decompression (in simulated high-altitude conditions) and to malaria and other serious infections. Hundreds of prisoners succumbed to these abominations. Indeed, these experiments were so appalling that, even the doctors in charge of this ghastly enterprise, destroyed all records for fear that they might fall into Allied hands.

That, of course, did not stop the likes of Dr Schilling and Dr Hintermeyer from being tried at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. Both were sentenced to death.

But death at Dachau did not require the, somewhat costly, intervention of these ‘experiments’. Perhaps a forced labour camp anywhere would feed its prisoners as little as possible while trying to extract from them as much as their weary limbs could deliver, and not bother about their health and hygiene. But camps like Dachau were built around the theme of death and nothing less.A

Appalling over-crowding along with deliberate, egregious neglect of sanitation made sure that epidemics (of typhus or dysentery, for example) would ravage the camp now and then. (According to one estimate, typhus alone carried off 15,000 prisoners during 1944-45.) Over 4,000 Russian prisoners-of-war were summarily executed in 1942-43 just outside Dachau.

Credit: Anjan Basu

Credit: Anjan Basu

Some SS guards were also known to play at deadly games of death themselves: a prisoner’s cap would be hurled into the ‘no man’s land’, and when the luckless man would run to retrieve it, he would be machinegunned. 

As the US Army approached closer, in one of Dachau’s sub-camps at Lindberg, 4,000 prisoners were burnt to death under orders from the camp commander who had decided to shut shop and move on.

The prisoner huts, their doors and windows nailed shut, were doused with gasoline and set on fire. And just 5 days before Dachau was liberated, the commandant forced out nearly 7,000 surviving inmates on a death march, with a heavy guard patrol, southwards in the direction of Eurasburg/Tegernsee.

Starvation, exhaustion and exposure to unseasonably cold weather killed more than a thousand prisoners on the way.

As the camp’s liberators arrived, they were confronted with the shattering scene of a freight train, standing inside the camp’s railway siding, piled high with dead and dying men.

It turned out that, as Buchenwald was about to be liberated, its SS guards stuffed more than 5,000 prisoners inside the wagons of a cargo train which then set off for Dachau, Nazism’s last refuge.

The prisoners encountered unspeakable barbarity on the way: at Nammering, about 800 dead were ordered to be removed from the train to be mass-buried in a wild ravine, and then the carriers of those corpses were shot dead themselves, their dead bodies hurled in their comrades’ graves.A

It was Himmler’s idea that ‘no prisoners (were to be allowed) to fall into the hands of the enemy alive’. The witches’ cabal of the NSDAP was not ready to wind up its rituals of death without a flourish.

It was nothing short of a miracle that about 30,000 survivors were left to greet their liberators on that bleak, snowy late April afternoon in Dachau, among them the prominent French socialist leaders, Leon Blum and Edouard Daladier, and the well-known Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoeller whose great anti-Nazi poem ‘First they came for the communists …’ seared itself into the memory of an entire generation.

Survivors of KZ Dachau demonstrate the operation of the crematorium by pushing a corpse into one of the ovens. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Survivors of KZ Dachau demonstrate the operation of the crematorium by pushing a corpse into one of the ovens. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Where once stood the thirty-two prisoner barracks, only their foundations show today on a desolate stretch of open ground lined by leafless poplars.

The barracks were in such a terrible, rickety shape that they had to be torn down. But the menacing crematorium which, with its numerous ovens, was never dismantled bears testimony to the humongous number of dead bodies incinerated at Dachau.  

The gas chamber also stands today, although it is generally believed to not have been pressed into active use, though it should have come in handy to ‘train’ master exterminators. 

Dachau prisoners, whom the Nazis thought needed to be ‘disposed of’ summarily, either faced the executioner’s bullet or were transported to Hartheim Castle near Linz for the ultimate Nazi ‘treatment’.

This is where the prisoners’ barracks once stood. Credit: Anjan Basu

This is where the prisoners’ barracks once stood. Credit: Anjan Basu

The Dachau memorial came up as late as 1965, mainly because the neighbouring communities were consistently in denial about the camp’s hideous history.

No doubt this attitude reflected in some measure on the somewhat aseptic, nearly spiffy, look of the memorial – a far cry from Auschwitz and Buchenwald – ‘like (of) some delightful holiday camp’, as Lewis Black wrote once.A

The museum’s collection of period photographs, government notifications, and articles from the remnants of the camp is extensive, and some videos capture the grim reality of that fearful period in odious detail.

Bunk beds and wash-rooms for prisoners, recreated on the original prototypes, have been displayed in a barracks replica also. Since the detainees came from many different religious affiliations, the memorial grounds are today home to several temples/chapels:

But, for most visitors, the truly moving monuments are the Nandor Glid sculpture in dark bronze erected in 1968 and the memorial to ‘The Unknown Prisoner’ created by Fritz Koelle.

Glid features, short strands of barbed wire upon which mangled skeletons hang wretchedly, the period 1933-1945 displayed beneath the sculpture, while Koelle’s prisoner stands on a pedestal that bears a legend reading ‘To honour the dead / to warn the living’.

Credit: Anjan Basu

Credit: Anjan Basu

Upon a giant slab of Black Granite in plain white lettering, stand the following words in French, English, German and Russian:

“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.”

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Leapords Galore …

Posted on March 23, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/03/leopards-coexist-hindu-community-india/

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A Poet, a Pakistani and a Person …

Posted on March 21, 2019. Filed under: Pakistan |

An edited write up of Raza Naeem’s review carried in The Wire – ‘

The appetite for seeing you silent
Is even emerging from the graves
But you speak!

For to listen is prohibited here
The passions which had terrified me
Now in their expression
I see others tremble with fear’

Kishwar Naheed is one of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century, and perhaps Pakistan’s greatest living poet.

She will turn 80 in 2020 and this year celebrates the 50thanniversary of the publication of her iconic ghazal collection, Lab-e-Goyaa (‘Speaking Lips’).

Over her long journey as a poet and feminist, she has contributed many iconic poems which have entered the feminist history of Pakistan: ‘Pehla Sufaid Baal’ (‘The First White Hair’), ‘Karre Kos’ (‘The Stiff Two Miles’), ‘Clearance Sale’, ‘Hum Gunaahgaar Auratein’ (‘We Sinful Women’) and ‘Men Kon Hoon’ (Who Am I).

Her iconic autobiography, Burri Aurat ki Katha (‘The Story of a Bad Woman’), is not just the autobiography of a poet but the story of a whole generation.

Her latest collection of poetry, Shireen Sukhani se Paray (‘Away from Sweet Talk’) contains many poems which especially relate to the plight of the contemporary Pakistani woman – or any woman for that matter.

Poems about the defiance of Hazrat Zainab in the court of Yazid, Sheema Kirmani’s own defiance at the Sehwan Sharif shrine, on the female victims of Karo Kari, a dirge for the benighted Zainab Ansari of Kasur, an ode to Asma Jahangir, the plight of palace maids and surrogate mothers, her own foster-mother and much else.

Her nearly-forgotten poem, ‘Qibla-Ruu Guftagu’ (‘Conversation facing the Kaaba’) should have been the anthem for the ‘Aurat March on International Women’s Day’ this year:

‘That they who became afraid even of young girls
What a petty existence they possess
Proclaim in every city
Have the spirit, keep this faith
That they who became afraid even of young girls
They indeed are petty themselves’

While this piece cannot do justice to Kishwar Naheed’s true literary stature, it’s really a sad day when Pakistan’s greatest poet and feminist icon and some of her would-be successors in the 21st century are today standing at daggers drawn.

The trigger: Naheed’s critical comments.

I believe some of the more vocal radicals of the Aurat March need to critically engage with the voluminous work produced by Kishwar Naheed over more than 50 years, beyond her iconic poem ‘Hum Gunaahgaar Auratein’; there is apparently also a language disconnect, since Naheed has produced her work almost entirely in Urdu, while most of the Aurat March radicals, operate primarily in English.

As Najiba Arif says in her wonderful poem ‘Kishwar Naheed ko Zinda Rehna Chahiye’ (Kishwar Naheed Must Live):

‘Kishwar Naheed is a dense tree
Which grows on the road on its own, all by itself
And extends its shadow across the way
Exhausted travelers rest under its shade
Birds’ nests hang from its branches
In which their eggs and progeny are protected
Songs echo when the wind passes through its leaves
Its branches rustle in silence
And whisper
Look, we have held the moon
If you want you can go far in the moonlight
Its trunk is sunk in the earth
Its roots have sprouted from the soil
And go within the deep waters

Kishwar Naheed has no daughter
But she knows how to be a  mother to one

Kishwar Naheed is alone
But she knows how to give support

Kishwar Naheed is a woman
And can speak the truth
Can take poison
Can adorn the gallows

Kishwar Naheed is that spirit which must live.’

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Mirza Ghalib …

Posted on March 19, 2019. Filed under: Books, Personalities |

On Ghalib's 150th Death Anniversary, a Visit to His Apartment in Kolkata

1.  ‘Ghalib, beware the hard, cold hearts of prosperous and satisfied people ……….. The hearts and lives which possess anguish and impatience (they are worthy of respect) … How much kindness and favours do these hearts and lives possess’


2. ‘If I envy someone at all, that is the person …. Who travels alone, hungry and thirsty … In the rocky valleys of mountains … …. Not on the satiated hearts of the haram (sacred territory of Mecca) …. Who satisfy themselves with their Aab-e-Zamzam’ (water from Hagar’s well in Mecca) 

3.  ‘When I imagine Paradise and think that if forgiveness is in order and I am rewarded with a palace, as well as a houri, eternal abode and to spend my life with this same lucky woman, my heart is agitated at the thought; and the heart comes to the mouth. …………. He-he that houri will grow weary, why wouldn’t the disposition worry, the same emerald palace, and the same branch of Tooba…’ (a tree of paradise)

4. ‘Seek that joy from the Heavens which was available to Jamshid ……………. Do not desire his splendour (since it is of no worth)…………… If your cup has grape wine, that is the real thing
Which is admirable but not that wine cup …. Even it be made of ruby.’

5. ‘Listen sahib, whatever taste a person has for whichever hobby and he spends his life frankly in it, that is (to be) called pleasure.’


6. ‘If not in the whole world so be it, at least in the city where I live, no one starving or naked should be visible indeed. Punished by God, rejected by mankind, weak, sick, a fakir, imprisoned by adversity, irrespective of myself and my matters of speech and skill, one who cannot see anyone begging, while begging myself from door to door, that person is myself.’  


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Man’s Best Friend …

Posted on March 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Man’s Best Friend has Always Helped Men, Women and Children in All types of Situations ………….. Now see them Help Out in Security at an Airport –

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/15/us/beagle-brigade-airport-sniffing-trnd/index.html

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Being Muslim is Not Easy …

Posted on March 17, 2019. Filed under: Guide Posts |

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/16/islamophobia-not-preserve-extremists-leaks-across-public-life

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‘New Delhi’ – Mark Tully …

Posted on March 16, 2019. Filed under: Books |

https://thewire.in/books/swapna-liddle-new-delhi-book-review

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South China Sea …

Posted on March 14, 2019. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom |

https://www.newsweek.com/us-nuclear-bombers-south-china-sea-oil-gas-1363511

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Alcatraz – Possible Escape Story? …

Posted on March 14, 2019. Filed under: American Thinkers |

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