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Interview on Parkinson

Bronowski's interview was given to Michael Parkinson in 1973 on BBC television.

WE ARRIVED at the station and I went through these terrible wooden and iron gates that say 'Arbeit Macht Frei' at the top - work makes free - to these unhappy people who went there to their deaths and to the gas ovens...but it turned out that the things that were far more moving were the ones that I couldn't have imagined at all... there would be whole areas which contained nothing but old spectacles, all very carefully collected. There was a terrible area which was entirely full of wooden legs and crutches and artificial limbs and the most pathetic area of all was one which was just full of little tin chamber pots that children who had come to the camp had brought with them.

The most awful thing was that there were pictures in the corridors of prisoners, which were just ordinary pictures, front face, number on the bottom. But many of them were pictures of quite young people, children, and to see these pictures of people taken as if they were criminals, with the tears streaming down their face, was just unbearable.

Then we drove over to the pond and we had arranged that I was just going to say a piece at the pond to close that programme, which would arise out of what I'd seen in the morning. So I walked up and down for five minutes, making up my mind what I was going to say, and then we did it - one take and we'd go home. We'd made up our minds that it was a piece which you couldn't possibly do twice. You just had to say what came into your mind, and the thing that came into my mind, absolutely out of the blue, was the phrase from Oliver Cromwell that I'd heard, 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.'

You see, the most awful thing about Auschwitz was that you realised that the people who'd been killed in the gas ovens, they were just dead, they were the fortunate ones. But the people who had shoved another lot of people into the gas ovens the next day - they were characters out of Dante's Inferno, living in endless Hell, because they'd lost all sense of human feeling and were going to repeat tomorrow the unutterable bestiality that they had practised today.

from Parkinson Elm Tree Books, 1975, p. 121.

The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen Moss. All rights reserved.