Buchenwald is Everywhere
Salty Snippet October 2020
I introduce to you Jacques Lusseyran and Jeremy Regard, who have come to live in me through Jacques’ writings. In his autobiography And There Was Light (Parabola Books.com), Jacques tells how he was blinded as a child, lived a rich and normal life until the Nazis entered Paris, and in January of 1944 at the age of 19 he was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp because of his work in the Resistance. He also wrote a collection of essays, Against the Pollution of the I, and it is one of these powerful sharings I’d like to briefly describe for you.
Jeremy Regard, known in the camp as “Socrates,” was a welder from a mountain village. A small older man, Jacques heard of him and expected he must be highly intelligent, wise, or saintly, given the awe with which people spoke of him. When Jacques finally encountered Jeremy, he was astounded to sense that Jeremy wasn’t really a thinker: he told stories. Jeremy walked through this barracks of a thousand men living where four hundred would have been crowded, men terrified, furious, confused, desperate, and Jeremy was calm and genuinely present with himself and with you. He actually exuded joy! To be near him “brings you back to yourself when you are about to disappear.”
He was a Christian Scientist but never expounded on ideas. In fact, Jeremy said many of these men would die from ideas. Jacques saw this happen, especially those who thought they were in hell.
Jeremy’s view was so different. He was not a dreamer. “The rest of us were dreamers: we dreamed of women, of children, of houses…We weren’t at Buchenwald. We didn’t want anything to do with Buchenwald.” …”His eyes were solidly fixed on all our miseries and he did not blink.” Nor did he have the air of a hero.
As Jacques tried to see with Jeremy’s eyes, he gradually saw that “Buchenwald was not unique…also that our camp was not in Germany…Buchenwald was in each of us.” It was anywhere and everywhere when people live with a willingness to succumb to fear and to stop living fully where they are.
Jeremy found joy in Buchenwald! To be with him was to feel it inexplicably rise up inside one’s self again. “The joy of being alive in this moment, in the next, each time we became aware of it. The joy of feeling the lives of others, of some others at least, against us, in the dark of night.”
Jacques: “What I call supernatural in him was the break with habits.. of judgment which make us call any adversity “unhappiness” or “evil.”” Judgments which make us angry, complaining, feeling entitled to something better. He had chosen to stand in “that which does not depend on any circumstance.”
Jacques ends this sharing by suggesting we all “put memory in quarantine.” (a poignant turn of expression for us today!) Images and ideas we hold onto of things that are not present now, judgments of comparison, standing in the past – these pull us out of the joy still possible anywhere. However, a memory that nourishes, strengthens us to be present here – such as an inspiring person – this type of memory increases our presence now, allows the joy of being alive to arise anywhere. Just as Buchenwald can arise in us anywhere if we choose the view of being deprived.
-1999, Parabola Books, New York. “Poetry in Buchenwald” is another marvelous essay there of how sharing poetry helped people survive. His autobiography is magnificent. He was one of a very small number who survived Buchenwald – blind! He actually survived because he was blind. He learned that he received guidance all the time as long as he didn’t cloud his knowings with “anger, fear, or competition”! -Marti Matthews