In Nürnberg's warm, well-lighted courtroom, the lawyers tried to get the point across—these Nazis had killed 6,000,000 Jews. The spectators nodded. They had heard it before.
The lawyers tried again to tell the untellable story. These Nazis had killed 6,000,000 Jews. This was no report from a refugee agency. Here it was, right out of the Nazi files. The Gestapo's chief Jew catcher, Adolf Eichmann, said that 4,000,000 died in concentration camps and 2,000,000 were killed by extermination squads. Fat, brutal Hans Frank counted 3,500,000 Jews in western Poland in 1941, "perhaps 100,000" in 1944.
The spectators nodded. They knew; they had heard it before.
Perhaps only the icy winter wind that swept the bleak ruins of eastern Europe really understood—the wind that moaned through an emptiness where once people had turned up their coat-collars against the cold, young men who dreamed of great careers, young girls who dreamed of sons. There would be no careers and no sons now, for the girls and the boys were gone.
Busy Nalewki Street in Warsaw where the street vendors once hawked bajgels on sticks was empty, smashed flat. For the audiences that used to crowd the little Ruski Teatr in Riga there would be no more after-theatre suppers in the warm and friendly Café Schwarz. Wilno's Niemiecka and Tatarska Streets, once thronged by students of Talmudic learning, were empty. Gaon Street, named for Gaon Rabbi Elijah, the 18th-Century miracle-working rabbi of Wilno, was deserted.
The eternal poor of these cities, many of whom lived in great cavernous chambers in the dank and gloomy cellars, were dead. The fur-coated Jewish factory owners of Lodz, the Budapest lawyers, the Viennese physicians were dead. Throughout the countryside, through the 33 all-Jewish villages of the Crimea, through the many little Polish towns, like Brzeziny, which was 98% Jewish in 1939, no Jew was left alive.
They died in the great gas chambers of the concentration camps, in the traveling gas vans that moved from village to village, in freight cars whose floors were sprinkled with skin-searing quicklime; and in the sewers, the last sanctuary of hundreds.
Even if they died in crowded suffocation, they died one by one, as individuals, alone. But the figures of the protracted massacre—six of every nine Jews in Europe—were ungraspable. One grisly comparison: allowing 120 pounds to the Jew, the Nazis butchered 720,000,000 pounds of meat and bone, 13 times the daily slaughter of the Chicago stockyards.
If the untellable crime could ever be told, Nürnberg's evidence, as clear and specific as last week's robbery, had told it. But its immense inhumanity made it almost immune to translation into human terms.
When the court received a document in which Hans Frank had urged his fellow Nazis to keep the slaughter secret, Frank dropped his air of moping repentance, threw back his head and laughed.