Sometimes a memory hits you, triggered by a momentary sensation. Today, while washing my hands in a small public sink, where you have to have one hand constantly pressed down on the faucet to keep the water running, I was reminded of a visit to the former Nazi ghetto and concentration camp in the Czech Republic: Theresienstadt.
One of the most harrowing images was the sight of the communal bathroom. Upon first entering the large, relatively bright room – I was struck by its relative banality. Clean, ceramic white sinks lined the walls, with mirrors placed above each one. Yet upon further inspection, I realized that something was off – there weren’t any pipes attached to the sinks, they were never used, just there, floating.
The sinks and mirrors were installed right before the war ended, right before the international community was going to get a glimpse into life inside the former military fortress. The sinks were installed to cover up the heinous crimes, to provide an appearance of civility.
Evidence of profound acts of horror are often intentionally destroyed during the final recognition of defeat – burned, buried, shredded –sometimes all that remains are the last-minute attempts to mitigate the signs. These perfunctory cover-ups demonstrate the most profound admission of guilt.