“Stupid Kindness”

I visited Auschwitz for the first time in 2013.

I got on a train from Amsterdam to Warsaw and then took two more trains before arriving at the death camp.

I'd been reading about the Holocaust for several years by then, learning everything I could. And yet...I was not prepared for the emotions I would feel after that first visit. It was like I was one person before the visit and another after. Art is the only way I know to express the anguish of history.

I think often of the books I've read in trying to understand the Holocaust: Elie Wiesel's Night, Heydrich: The Face of Evil, The Kindly Ones, Rudolf Vrba's I Escaped Auschwitz, and many more. I think of the horror, the frustration, the disbelief, and finally, what Vassily Grossman describes as the "stupid kindness." In his book, Life and Fate, he writes:

“I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never by conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”

― Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate