January 27, 1945 marked the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Poland) concentration camp by the Soviet’s Red Army soldiers. We then discovered the largest and most lethal of Hitler’s death camps in the whole Europe.
January 27, 2005 marked the 60th memorial day of the Holocaust.
Between 1 million and 1.5 million prisoners ~ most of them Jews ~ perished in gas chambers or died of starvation and disease at Auschwitz. Overall, 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
The UN General Assembly commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps with a special session Monday (Jan. 24, 2005), a stark change for a body that has been reluctant to address the extermination of the Jews during World War II. According to AP (The Associated Press) UN officials broke with 59 years of protocol against allowing prayers at the United Nations. The ceremony began with the El Maleh Rachamim, the traditional memorial prayer, and ended with the Israeli national anthem. The decision to do so was made by Mark Malloch Brown, the new chief of staff, under orders from Annan, according to an internal document obtained by The Associated Press.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, joined world leaders in confronting a question that has long haunted the United Nations: whether its member states have the will to stop future genocide. With mass atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region, the question took on new poignancy.
“The Jewish witness that I am speaking of my people’s suffering as a warning,” Wiesel told the General Assembly. “He sounds the alarm to prevent these tragedies from being done to others. And yes, I am convinced if the world had listened to those of us who tried to speak we may have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia, and naturally Rwanda.”
I got the chance to visit one of concentration camps in Germany many years ago. It’s Dachau. It’s a cold spring day in May 1990. Dachau is huge. It would take about an hour just to walk around all of the grounds. Approximately 30,000 prisoners (1,173 of them German) were living there upon liberation in 1945. The most familiar figure will be Dr. Siegmund Rascher. He did gruesome medical experiments involving freezing people in cold water or air, then trying to warm them up with hot water (this would allegedly help the German air force). He also subjected people to high altitude simulations until they died. For me he’s one sickly cruel scientist. He said he didn’t hate non-Aryans and he did all those experiments because he just wanted to get his PhD. He kept submitting research reports to Nazi-controlled universities in an attempt to boost his credential portfolio.
I visited the reconstructed barracks with their 4-story wooden beds. I looked at the collection of evil and lethal experimental tools. I read the history and watched the pictures. I tried to imagine what the victims had to endure during their lives here…
On a cold winter’s night, a whistle cracked the quiet, still night
I cringed on my bed, got up,
then carried my tired body and soul to the huge ground
to endure familiar torture from the camp’s master.
The protruding bones beneath my skins
made me realize that I could hardly stand
the blistering wind by my almost barenaked body,
and the cold earth beneath my bare feet.
I kept all my strength to make me stand still,
but my body failed me miserably.
I fell ~ and then they brought me to the execution.
I have no more strength to fight or plea.
O, God, where are you?
When things like these happen people turn, ask, and then blame God. Why He let these things happen. Elie Wiesel wrote it beautifully in his enlightening book “Night.” This autobiographical novel tells the story of Elie (short for Eliezer), a teenage Jewish boy from the small Transylvanian village of Sighet. He is 17 when transported to Auschwitz, Buna, and finally Buchenwald with his father. Elie loses his faith, argues with God, and is sustained only by the need to care for his father. Instead of God, he is rescued by an American tank. The story is a sort of Exodus in reverse, with humiliation and death as its destination, not liberation and triumph.
After I visited Dachau, I understood why Wiesel titled this book “Night.” Do you know why? Because the comforting sense of night is forever lost as Elie experiences the horrible, dreadful nights of the concentration camps. Because night brings out the worst danger. Because night is representing death and it becomes an imagery of the unknown.
Wiesel had vowed never to write about his Holocaust experiences, but in 1955, after meeting the French Catholic novelist and Nobel laureate Francois Mauriac, he decided to write his Holocaust nightmare. “Night” was the first part of a trilogy that included “Dawn” and “The Accident”, and for these and his other Holocaust studies Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Wiesel became politically involved after learning about the persecution of Soviet Jews in the USSR. He has continued to plea on behalf of the oppressed around the world especially people in the Soviet Union, South Africa, Vietnam, Biafra, and Bangladesh.
Pastor Martin Niemöller, who initially supported the Nazis, ended up in Dachau in 1938, whereupon he famously noted that
Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Jude.
Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr,
der protestieren konnte.
~ Der Weg ins Freie, Martin Niemöller (F.M. Hellbach, Stuttgart, 1946)
When the Nazis arrested the Communists,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Social Democrat.
When they arrested the trade unionists,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a trade unionist.
When they arrested the Jews,
I said nothing; after all, I was not a Jew.
When they arrested me,
there was no longer anyone who could protest.
~ translated by Bob Berkovitz (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Do I need anything more to say about being ignorant?
Frank Wortner put it very well as follows: The saddest part is how little people seem to have learned in the passing years. Genocide still happens. People still look upon others as less worthy, less human, and then they act on their worst impulses. We cannot bring back those who suffered and perished at places like this, but we should at least honor their memory by resolving never to allow tragedies like this to be repeated again. The camp at Dachau and the other preserved death camps are not fitting memorials; a fitting memorial would be a world free of this sort of hatred. How sad that we haven’t built it yet.
There are a lot of references about the Holocaust. Following are some references to start and may help you to remember ~ ignorance and hatred are lethal combination to humanity.
- Knowledge of the Holocaust amongst Canadians: A Mixed Result [pdf file]
- Holocaust: The Camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor, Dachau, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Nordhausen, Bergen-Bilsen, Maidanek, Chelmno, Westerbork
- Focus – The Holocaust (Guardian Unlimited)
- Literatures of the Holocaust (University of Pennsylvania)
- Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (Museum, Archive, Library) ~ The Official Pages
- Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity