Auschwitz 75th Anniversary

Auschwitz 75th Anniversary
1945-2020

The voices of victims are paramount, but for its betterment, mankind must also strive to comprehend the motivations of the killers. On a day when the news was a brim with the deadly potential of the Wuhan “coronavirus”, the world remembered the murderous impact of a deadlier virus: “humanity itself.”

The 75th anniversary of the “liberation” of Auschwitz, the most notorious of the “Nazi concentration and death camps”, was commemorated on ground zero itself, in Poland. European and Israeli leaders were present, but the most “searing” testimonies were delivered by survivors.

Victims remembered having hair “hacked” from their heads and numbers being “tattooed” on their arms. Of the cries of those being “shoved” into gas chambers. And of the stench of “incinerated” human flesh.

This is critically important to know. The voice of “victims” is paramount when it comes to the many, many “cruel crimes” committed at Auschwitz, one – “genocide” – is the most terrible in the judicial lexicon.

These “atrocities” have been burned onto the pages of history; they have also been enshrined in art. The literature of Eli Wiesel and Primo Levi provide eloquent testimonies to the unprecedented “suffering” of the Jews under the Nazis.

Given the sheer “scale” of what happened at Auschwitz, and the deliberate “intent” behind it, the world “deserves” the fullest possible accounting. Yet while world leaders and victims were “present”, two groups who could help deliver a complete accounting were glaringly “absent.”

One group was those who made the day as the “liberators” of the camp. The other group was the “perpetrators” who carried out a planned “slaughter of humans” in numbers so vast that if the victims were gathered together, their corpses would overflow scores of sport stadiums.

Where were the “Red Army” veterans who overran all of Germany’s “extermination” camps? Why was Russian President Vladimir Putin not present? And where were veterans of the  German “SS” political troops who carried out this unimaginable “slaughter?”

Many historic films have commemorated the “Nazi” genocides. The movie “Come and See” (1985) showed exactly how a “massacre” was undertaken, through the eyes of a teenager in Byelorussia.

The “liberators” should be lauded for obvious reasons. In the struggle against Nazism, the USSR took on the brunt of the German fighting force. The cost was virtually unimaginable: “27 million dead.” That metric alone should have granted Moscow a somber “voice at the table” of remembrance.

Certainly, there are historical complexities and issues. The Soviets not only liberated wartime Poland, they occupied post-war Poland and held it until the end of the Cold War. Even so: “Any accurate historical reckoning demands that they should not be pushed out of the picture.”

More broadly, the fact that the liberators of Auschwitz were “unrepresented” points to a gap in Western cultural memory. To this day, the machinery of the “Holocaust” is not well understood among Western public’s. In fact, every single one of the “extermination death camps” was liberated not by the Western Allies, but by the “Red Army.”

For those unfamiliar with the “Holocaust”, the line between “concentration camp” and “death camp” may be a fine distinction. After all, footage of British troops liberating “Belsen” and US troops liberating “Dachau” was so sickening that some believed, at the time the films were first shown, that they could only be products of over-wrought “Allied” propaganda. As we now know, they were not.

Yet these two camps – and others liberated by the Western Allies – were not extermination camps. They were “concentration” camps. In those camps, the heaped bodies, the stacks of dying in tiered bunks,  the crowds of skeletal survivors, were a result of exhaustion, malnutrition, disease. In short, they were very largely victims of mismanagement and callousness by Nazi authorities.

The “extermination camps” were different. There, “murder” was not a byproduct. It was the “sole” aim.  There were six of these man-made hells. “Belzek, Chelmo, Sobibor and Treblinka” were pure killing centers. Extermination sub-camps were also set up in concentration/labor camps: “Auschwitz-Birkenstock and Majdanek.”

All were in Poland. The “victims” in these camps were not conveyed to these places to be “slave” laborers. They were taken there, by the train load, for the express purpose of being “slaughtered.”

 Schindler’s List is a good clip about humanity amid horror.

This brings us to the “perpetrators.” At Auschwitz there were no elderly men or women in faded black uniforms with death’s heads on their caps and the double lightning flash of the SS on their collars.

Of course, their absence is understandable. Were any SS to appear – perhaps to offer excuses; perhaps to beg for forgiveness; perhaps to defiantly croak a final voice to their murderous creed – they would be arrested on sight. And such arrests would be just. Yet humanity – if it is to learn anything from its darkest hour – should give history’s worst “killers” a hearing.

History is an academic discipline. It teaches the young and the interested. As with criminology, it analyzes why things happen. We absolutely must try to understand why our fellow humans could act as they did in “Treblinka.”

To create a dedicated rail station in a forest clearing, complete with a faux ticket office, a clock with painted hands and even a band playing to welcome to arriving trains. To cheerfully “separate” men from women and children on the platform; to politely explain to them why they needed to “divest” themselves of their belongings; and to then to suggest they “strip” themselves for a shower.

“We need to understand why these same men could change in an instant – brandishing weapons and attack dogs to herd the naked, defenseless people through a corridor of barbed wire into a chamber set behind the platform. There, doors would be slammed, fumes released. Subsequently, the cadavers would be placed on giant griddles made of rail lines and incinerated.”

I am not arguing that understanding should replace justice. Some crimes are only punishable with a bullet or a noose.

Adolf Eichmann was renditioned from South America to Israel by Israeli agents to account for himself. A uniformed “bureaucrat” who did not pull a trigger, but who delivered millions of “victims” into the maw of the murder machine, Eichmann went to his “executioner” unrepentant. Other SS leaders, confronted with the “gravity” of their crimes, opened their eyes.

Rudolf Höss, the Auschwitz commandant, was granted the opportunity to pen his memoirs – subsequently published as Death Dealer with an introduction by Primo Levi – and confession by his Polish captors. In a West German prison, Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, agreed to extensive interviews with journalist Gitta Sereny for her research into the death camps, Into That Darkness.

Höss was “hanged” after penning his confession. Stangl died of “heart failure” less than one day after his last interview with Sereny.

The movie “The Painted Bird” (2019) compelled some audiences to “flee” theaters, while others applauded its unflinching gaze into the “face of horror.” Watch it at your peril.

“Never forget” requires accurate remembrance. It is easy to intone the clichés, “Never forget.” But without a basic understanding of what happened, what is to be forgotten? Today, there are multiple “misunderstandings” about the Nazi murder machine.

  • That it only impacted Jews. Actually, millions of other victims, notably Slavs, and including Gypsies and homosexuals, were also devoured.
  • That it was conducted by brutal thugs. Actually, Stangl was considered a gentleman by West German prison staff, and most commanders of the SS Einzatzgruppe death squads held PhD.
  • That “the commies were just as bad.” Actually, there were no industrialized extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenstock or Treblinka even in the worst of Stalin’s gulags, and even amid Mao Zedong’s most manic policies.

The Nazi “genocide” was the end terminus of prejudice. Prejudice, and mob mentality, remains rife across the world. To prevent prejudice from transitioning to a “Final Solution” we need a fully informed comprehension. That comprehension must extend beyond the barriers of “ethnicity, nationality and politics.”

And it must include the voices of the ”perpetrators”, for to prevent crime, the motivations of “criminals” must be understood.  Only by “hearing” these voices can such voices be “recognized, acknowledged, debated and defended” against.

Yet, there is a trend underway worldwide to “eradicate or whitewash” brutal history, with the intention of obviating “offense.” This trend extends from the destruction of “Confederate statuary to a refusal to countenance Swastikas, SS runes or Rising Sun emblems.”

It may be driven by good intentions, but is problematic. It is reminiscent of stabbing fingers into ears or thrusting heads into sand. At worst, it destroys evidence of crimes.

Case in point? “Treblinka.” The forested extermination zone where 800,000 men, women and children were “slaughtered” was destroyed and its site “camouflaged” with farm buildings, not by do-gooders eager to prevent “hurt” feelings, but by Nazis making a vain effort to “hide” evidence.

Fortunately for “humanity”, Auschwitz stands today as the ultimate “memorial of man’s inhumanity to man.” It is a hopefully everlasting monument that “reminds” us that the very worst can, indeed, happen “anytime” again.

Related issues cannot be “censored”; they must be “confronted.” Justices confront the “crimes of today”; historians confront the “crimes of yesterday.” Judgments, sentencing and condemnation must be informed by “free information and free debate” – the hallmarks of a moral civilization.

Above all, we must not “blind” ourselves to realities. The starkest reality of the Holocaust is simple but damning: “The Nazi genocide was not carried out by phantoms, aliens or monsters. It was perpetrated by our fellow humans.”

“To refuse to accept this, to refuse to interrogate the perpetrators; to decline to divine their motivations; to be blind to the potential of today’s prejudices becoming tomorrow’s Final Solutions, willfully denies ourselves critical knowledge for mankind’s betterment, and perhaps, its survival.”

75th ANNIVERSARY OF THE LIBERATION OF GERMAN NAZI CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP AUSCHWITZ  27 JANUARY 2020
75th anniversary of liberation of Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz

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