Tag Archives: Holocaust

Pope at Auschwitz, Says Same Horrors Happening Today

Pope Francis pays respect in front of graves during his visit to Birkenau's former Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Pope Francis pays respect in front of graves during his visit to Birkenau’s former Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Philip Pullella 
July 30, 2016

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – Pope Francis made an emotional and silent visit to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz on Friday and later said many of the horrors committed are happening in places at war today.

Seated on a bench near the gate to the camp site in Poland, Pope Francis prayed in silence in tribute to the 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, killed there by Nazi occupiers during World War Two.

The third pope to visit Auschwitz and the first not to have lived through the war in Europe, he entered the camp by foot, passing through iron gates under the infamous sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei”, German for “Work Sets You Free”.

Visibly moved by the sight of the wooden guard towers, barbed wire fences and inmate barracks, he sat in silent prayer for about 15 minutes. Francis said before the trip that he had decided to make no statement as silence was the best way to honour the dead.

Reflecting on his visit several hours later, Francis asked young people: “Is it possible that man, created in God’s image and likeness, is capable of doing these things?”

“Cruelty did not end at Auschwitz and Birkenau,” he said. “It is still around today … in many places in the world where there is war, the same things are happening.”

He cited torture, over-crowded prisons and starving children.

The pope spent a few minutes quietly greeting about a dozen Auschwitz survivors, kissing each of them on both cheeks. One man gave the pope a picture of himself surrounded by other emaciated inmates in a bunk, and asked Francis to sign it.

The 79-year-old Argentine-born pontiff then proceeded to walk through the barely lit corridors of the drab, brick building of Auschwitz Block 11, which had housed prisoners selected for special punishment.

With aides using small flashlights to light his way, Francis visited the underground cell where Franciscan monk Maksymilian Kolbe was killed after offering his life to save a Polish man whom had been picked to die of starvation.

Just outside the cell, in Auschwitz’s commemorative book, Francis wrote in Spanish: “Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty”.

German occupation forces set up the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War Two in Oswiecim, a town about 70 km (43 miles) from Poland’s second city, Krakow.

Between 1940 and 1945, Auschwitz developed into a vast complex of barracks, workshops, gas chambers and crematoriums.

GAVE LIFE FOR ANOTHER

On July 29, 1941, the camp director, in reprisal for the escape of a prisoner, chose 10 others and sentenced them to death by starvation.

When the selection was completed, Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to die in place of a man with a family, Franciszek Gajowniczek. Kolbe was later killed by lethal injection but the man he saved survived the war. Kolbe was made a saint in 1982 by Pope John Paul II, a Pole.

Later, the pope, who has made many strong condemnations of anti-Semitism, also visited Birkenau, a part of the camp where most of the killings were in gas chambers, and was driven past ruins of crematoriums that the Nazis blew up before the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945.

He listened silently as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, sang from Psalm 130 and a priest read the psalm in Polish, just metres (yards) away from the end of the single rail track where cattle cars brought hundreds of thousands of prisoners to the camp.

After greeting some 25 people who have been honoured as “Righteous Among the Nations” for helping save Jews, Francis left as quietly as he had arrived.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski, Pawel Florkiewicz and Wiktor Szary; Writing by Justyna Pawlak and Philip Pullella; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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The evil of Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli government photo.

Israeli government photo. Benjamin Netanyahu

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
October, 2015

He’s the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. And he has been for far too many years.

For those people, like myself, who believe in Israel’s right to exist but also believe that this belief doesn’t give Israel the right to do whatever the hell it wants, Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued racist and potentially internationally criminal actions have made things so bad in Israel, one really has to question how long the country can survive with him as its leader.

There are so many examples to choose from, but let’s start with the most recent.

His declaration that the Holocaust was not indeed conceived by Adolf Hitler and his gang of cronies like Himmler, and Goebbels, but was actually cooked up by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Netanyahu made the charge while giving a speech at the opening of the World Zionist Congress this week in Jerusalem.

Now Husseini was no sweetheart. And rather than going into his extensive dubious background, I would refer you to the first link at the bottom of this page from Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo that explores this more fully.

But to say that Hitler, as one scholar put it, was little more than a “clueless anti-Semite” convinced by an Arab Palestinian Muslim to conduct the Holocaust is so vile, and so racist, so historically inaccurate, and so the wrong thing to say at this particular moment in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, that when I first heard it, I momentary wondered if Netanyahu had gone crazy.

Fortunately, I was not the only person who reacted this way.

Dozens of historical scholars, including many well-known Jewish historians, denounced Netanyahu’s comments as ridiculous. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, “Prof. Dina Porat, chief historian of Yad Vashem, [the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem] called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Hitler did not seek to exterminate the Jews until his meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini ‘completely erroneous, on all counts.’ “

Completely erroneous, on all counts.

In fact, not a few historians pointed out that what Netanyahu was doing was giving a boost up to the Holocaust deniers by seeming to say “Oh, Hitler he didn’t really want to hurt the Jews. He had to be pushed into it.”

Which leads us to ask: why did he do it?

Benjamin Netanyahu is evil.

Oh he’s not evil in the way that Al-Qaeda is evil, or the Islamic state is evil. That evil is truly on the level of the Nazis, and the sooner it is wiped from the face of the earth, the better.

No, he is evil like Erdogan is evil, like El-Sisi is evil, like Jean-Marie Le Pen is evil, or like Pamela Geller is evil. It is a cynical evil that seeks out the darkest parts of a human and twists into something misshapen and foreboding. It relies on fear of the other, suspicion and violence. But mostly fear.

For the ultra-nationist and far-right settlers movement, it must have been music to their ears. It gave them just another excuse – maybe the ultimate excuse – to continue to brutalize Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

We’ve seen this trait of Netanyahu raise its head before this week’s “completely erroneous” statements about Hitler.

During the most recent Israeli election, facing what look like imminent defeat, at the last second he resorted to making racist statements about the Palestinians, and assuring his thuggish supporters that there would never be a peace deal as long as he was the Prime Minister of Israel. And in the jigsaw puzzle world of Israeli politics, where small parties with only two or three seats can dictate the fate of the entire nation, that was all he needed.

And here’s the really sad part of what Netanyahu has done.

Israel is a great nation, that has produced some of the greatest thinkers, scientists, businessmen and technologists that the world has ever seen. For many, many years it was the only democratic nation in the Middle East. And the people who lived there rightly felt proud of its place in the world.

And that is what Netanyahu has destroyed. Under his leadership Israel has become in many places (and not just in the Arab world or in Muslim countries) an international pariah. Israel is no longer looked at by many people as the one true voice of democracy in the Middle East, but instead as a racist occupying power, guilty of war crimes which it refuses to admit, a country whose products are worthy of being boycotted by many, a country of one law for one group of citizens and another law for another group of citizens.

When I was a kid I had nothing but admiration for Israel. I read everything I could about it. I was seduced by the myth of Israel, and felt that, after the Holocaust, the world needed a place like Israel.

I don’t feel that admiration so much anymore. While I will still support Israel’s right to exist, I can no longer support its actions in its own country or in the world at large. For me, much of this falls at the feet of Benjamin Netanyahu. And I will never forgive him for that.

Nor, I think, will the world. And one day, I feel fairly certain, neither will Israelis.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

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LINKS:

Netanyahu Reduced to Defending Hitler. Really …
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/netanyahu-reduced-to-defending-hitler-really

Netanyahu’s fairytale about Hitler and the mufti is the last thing we need
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/21/netanyahu-faitytale-hitler-mufti-holocaust

Mass Murder of Jews in Europe Started Months Before Hitler Met Mufti, Historians Say
http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.681661

Blame it on the mufti
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/10/blame-mufti-jerusalem-nazi-netanyahu-151022103157506.html

Peace activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman attacked by knife-wielding settler in West Bank
http://mondoweiss.net/2015/10/ascherman-attacked-wielding

Yad Vashem’s Chief Historian on Hitler and the Mufti: Netanyahu Had It All Wrong
http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.681718

Germany Assures Bibi: No, We Did It
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/germany-assures-bibi-no-we-did-it

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Nicholas Winton, the British Schindler, dies at 106

Reuters
July, 2015

Nicholas Winton, aged 101, holds flowers while sitting on a stage after the premiere of the movie "Nicky's family" which is based on his life story in Prague January 20, 2011.     REUTERS/Petr Josek

Nicholas Winton, aged 101, holds flowers while sitting on a stage after the premiere of the movie “Nicky’s family” which is based on his life story in Prague January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Petr Josek

LONDON  – A man who became known as the “British Schindler” for saving hundreds of Czech children from Nazi persecution in the run-up to World War Two, has died at the age of 106.

Nicholas Winton died July 1 with his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren at his side, according to a statement from the Rotary Club of Maidenhead in southern England, of which he was a former president.

Winton managed to bring 669 mostly Jewish children on eight trains to Britain through Germany in 1939 but the ninth train with 250 children never left Prague because the war broke out. None of the 250 children on board was ever seen again.

Winton had worked as a stockbroker before heading to Prague in 1938 to help with welfare work for Czech refugees and was 29 when he masterminded the rescue of the children.

His achievements were often compared with those of Oskar Schindler, the ethnic German industrialist who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust and who was the subject of the 1993 film “Schindler’s List.”

Winton’s wartime exploits, however, remained a secret for years until his wife Greta found a detailed scrapbook in their attic in 1988.

He had not even told her of his role.

“You can’t come up to somebody and say: ‘by the way do you want to know what I did in ’39?’ People don’t talk about what they did in the war,” Winton told Reuters Television in 2009.

Over the years, Winton’s work had been recognised with various awards and with a small planet discovered by Czech astronomers named in his honour.

He had also been commended by the U.S. House of Representatives which said it “urges men and women everywhere to recognise in Winton’s remarkable humanitarian effort the difference that one devoted, principled individual can make in changing and improving the lives of others.”

The Rotary Club quoted from a 1939 letter in which Winton had written: “There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness, which is, in my opinion, the giving of one’s time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering.

“It entails going out, finding and helping those in suffering and danger and not merely in leading an exemplary life in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.”

Copyright Reuters 2015

(Reporting by Stephen Addison; editing by Michael Holden)

Further reading:

Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of 669 Children From Holocaust, Dies at 106, by Robert D. McFadden, New York Times 

Book, “Nicholas Winton’s Lottery of Life” (2007), by  Matej Minác

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Auschwitz: 70 years after a death factory is liberated

The shoes of prisoners murdered in Auschwitz, liberated January 27, 1945. Public domain

The shoes of prisoners murdered in Auschwitz, liberated January 27, 1945. Public domain

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, when Soviet troops freed the survivors of the Nazi death factory. More than one million people were murdered at Auschwitz, most of them Jews. 

Read Auschwitz: ‛It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people. The “Verbatim” feature is Facts and Opinions copy editor Michael Sasges’ report: extracts of the reasons for judgment prepared by members of the International Military Tribunal for Germany, which tried German leaders accused of war crimes. The document is one of the earliest summaries of the causes and consequences of the horrors perpetrated in the camp. 

Recommended elsewhere:

The commemoration of the liberation is live-streamed today from Miejsce Pamięci i Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau:

 

Soviet Soldier Describes What It Was Like To Liberate Auschwitz, by THIBAULT MARCHAND, AFP (On Business Insider)

It was the silence, the smell of ashes and the boundless surrounding expanse that struck Soviet soldier Ivan Martynushkin when his unit arrived in January 1945 to liberate the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

As they entered the camp for the first time, the full horror of the Nazis’ crimes there were yet to emerge.

250px-Maus“Only the highest-ranking officers of the General Staff had perhaps heard of the camp,” recalled Martynushkin of his arrival to the site where at least 1.1 million people were killed between 1940 and 1945 — nearly 90 percent of them Jews. “We knew nothing.”

But Martynushkin and his comrades soon learned.  continue reading  (you will leave Facts and Opinions)

Auschwitz message still resonates today. By Caroline Wyatt, Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

…. And as societies across Europe grapple with immigration, and seek to define themselves and their values anew, asking their religious minorities to prove their loyalty to their country, the words embossed on the monument at Birkenau, “let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity” have a chilling resonance once again. … continue reading (you will leave Facts and Opinions)

Maus, a graphic novel, by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman.

Maus, first serialized in the Raw anthology, was published by Pantheon Books in 1991. It won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize, the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer. In the novel, Spiegelman interviews his father about his experiences as a survivor of Nazi concentration camps.

Interview with an Auschwitz Guard: ‘I Do Not Feel Like a Criminal,’ der Spiegel. Interview Conducted by Felix Bohr, Cordula Meyer and Klaus Wiegrefe

Jakob W. was 19-years-old and in his third semester studying architecture at college when he received the letter that would, seven decades later, turn him into a suspect for complicity in murder. 

In the summer of 1942, the young man from a village near Belgrade received his draft notice. Just a few months later, he was standing on a tower hundreds of kilometers away from his home in Yugoslavia. Jakob W. was now an SS guard in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp — and thus a party in the most horrific of the crimes committed by the Third Reich. For two and a half years, he looked down at the factory of human annihilation, day in and day out. … continue reading (you will leave Facts and Opinions).

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VERBATIM: ‛It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people . . . ’

 

The evidence adduced before the members of the International Military Tribunal Germany was adduced by men like American Robert Jackson, at his appointment as chief United States prosecutor a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

The evidence adduced before the members of the International Military Tribunal Germany was adduced by men like American Robert Jackson, at his appointment as chief United States prosecutor a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

70 YEARS OF ACCOUNTING FOR AUSCHWITZ  | On Jan. 27, 1945 the Red Army captured Nazi Germany’s lead killing facility, Auschwitz. The reasons for judgment prepared by members of the International Military Tribunal for Germany that tried German leaders accused of war cimes is one of the earliest summaries of the causes and consequences of the horrors perpetrated in the camp. The “Persecution of the Jews” section of the reasons follows:

The persecution of the Jews at the hands of the Nazi Government has been proved in the greatest detail before the tribunal. It is a record of consistent and systematic inhumanity on the greatest scale. Ohlendorf, chief of Amt III in the RSHA from 1939 to 1943, and who was in command of one of the Einsatz groups in the campaign against the Soviet Union, testified as to the methods employed in the extermination of the Jews. He said that he employed firing squads to shoot the victims in order to lessen the sense of individual guilt on the part of his men; and the 90,000 men, women and children who were murdered in one year by his particular group were mostly Jews.

When the witness Bach Zelewski was asked how Ohlendorf could admit the murder of 90,000 people, he replied:

“I am of the opinion that when, for years, for decades, the doctrine is preached that the Slav race is an inferior race, and Jews not even human, then such an outcome is inevitable.”

But the defendant Frank spoke the final words of this chapter of Nazi history when he testified in this court:

” We have fought against Jewry, we have fought against it for years: and we have allowed ourselves to make utterances and my own diary has become a witness against me in this connection — utterances which are terrible…. A thousand years will pass and this guilt of Germany will not be erased.”

The anti-Jewish policy was formulated in Point 4 of the program [of the Nazi party]  which declared ” Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently, no Jew can be a member of the race.” Other points of the program declared that Jews should be treated as foreigners, that they should not be permitted to hold public office, that they should be expelled from the Reich if it were impossible to nourish the entire population of the State, that they should be denied any further immigration into Germany, and that they should be prohibited from publishing German newspapers. The Nazi party preached these doctrines throughout its history.  Der Stuermer and other publications were allowed to disseminate hatred of the Jews, and in the speeches and public declarations of the Nazi leaders, the Jews were held up to public ridicule and contempt.

With the seizure of power, the persecution of the Jews was intensified. A series of discriminatory laws were passed, which limited the offices and professions permitted to Jews; and restrictions were placed on their family life and their rights of citizenship. By the autumn of 1938, the Nazi policy towards the Jews had reached the stage where it was directed towards the complete exclusion of Jews from German life. Pogroms were organized which included the burning and demolishing of synagogues, the looting of Jewish businesses, and the arrest of prominent Jewish business men. A collective fine of one billion marks was imposed on the Jews, the seizure of Jewish assets was authorized, and the movement of Jews was restricted by regulations to certain specified districts and hours. The creation of ghettoes was carried out on an extensive scale, and by an order of the Security Police, Jews were compelled to wear a yellow star . . . on the breast and back.

It was contended for the prosecution that certain aspects of this anti-Semitic policy were connected with the plans for aggressive war. The violent measures taken against the Jews in November, 1938, were nominally in retaliation for the killing of an official of the German embassy in Paris. But the decision to seize Austria and Czechoslovakia had been made a year before. The imposition of a fine of one billion marks was made, and the confiscation of the financial holdings of the Jews was decreed, at a time when German armament expenditure had put the German treasury in difficulties, and when the reduction of expenditure on armaments was being considered. These steps were taken, moreover, with the approval of the defendant Goering, who had been given responsibility for economic matters of this kind, and who was the strongest advocate of an extensive rearmament program notwithstanding the financial difficulties.

It was further said that the connection of the anti-Semitic policy with aggressive war was not limited to economic matters. The German Foreign Office circular, in an article of  Jan. 25, 1939, entitled “Jewish question as a factor in German Foreign Policy in the year 1938”, described the new phase in the Nazi anti-Semitic policy in these words:

” It is certainly no coincidence that the fateful year 1938 has brought nearer the solution of the Jewish question simultaneously with the realization of the idea of Greater Germany, since the Jewish policy was both the basis and consequence of the events of the year 1938. The advance made by Jewish influence and the destructive Jewish spirit in politics, economy, and culture paralyzed the power and the will of the German people to rise again, more perhaps even than the power policy opposition of the former enemy Allied powers of the First World War. The healing of this sickness among the people was therefore certainly one of the most important requirements for exerting the force which, in the year 1938, resulted in the joining together of Greater Germany in defiance of the world.”

The Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany before the war, severe and repressive as it was, cannot compare, however, with the policy pursued during the war in the occupied territories. Originally the policy was similar to that which had been in force inside Germany. Jews were required to register, were forced to live in ghettoes, to wear the yellow star, and were used as slave labourers. In the summer of 1941, however, plans were made for the “final solution” of the Jewish question in all of Europe. This “final solution ” meant the extermination of the Jews, which early in 1939 Hitler had threatened would be one of the consequences of an outbreak of war, and a special section in the Gestapo under Adolf Eichmann, as head of Section B4 of the Gestapo, was formed to carry out the policy.

The plan for exterminating the Jews was developed shortly after the attack on the Soviet Union. Einsatzgruppen . . . , formed for the purpose of breaking the resistance of the population of the areas lying behind the German armies in the East, were given the duty of exterminating the Jews in those areas. The effectiveness of the work of the Einsatzgruppen is shown by the fact that in February, 1942, Heydrich was able to report that Estonia had already been cleared of Jews and that in Riga the number of Jews had been reduced from 29,500 to 2,500. Altogether the Einsatzgruppen operating in the occupied Baltic States killed over 135,000 Jews in three months.

Nor did these special units operate completely independently of the German Armed Forces. There is clear evidence that leaders of the Einsatzgruppen obtained the co-operation of army commanders. In one case the relations between an Einsatzgruppe and the military authorities was described at the time as being “very close, almost cordial;” in another case the smoothness of an Einsatzgruppen’s operation was attributed to the “understanding for this procedure ” shown by the army authorities.

Units of the Security Police and SD in the occupied territories of the East, which were under civil administration, were given a similar task. The planned and systematic character of the Jewish persecutions is best illustrated by the original report of the SS Brigadier-General Stroop, who was in charge of the destruction of the ghetto in Warsaw, which took place in 1943. The tribunal received in evidence that report, illustrated with photographs, bearing on its title page: “The Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw no longer exists.” The volume records a series of reports sent by Stroop to the Higher SS and Police Fuehrer East. In April and May, 1943, in one report, Stroop wrote:

” The resistance put up by the Jews and bandits could only be suppressed by energetic actions of our troops day and night. The Reichsfuehrer SS ordered therefore on the 23rd April, 1943 the cleaning out of the ghetto with utter ruthlessness and merciless tenacity. I therefore decided to destroy and burn down the entire ghetto, without regard to the armament factories. These factories were systematically dismantled and then burnt. Jews usually left their hideouts, but frequently remained in the burning buildings, and jumped out of the windows only when the heat became unbearable. They then tried to crawl with broken bones across the street into buildings which were not afire…. Life in the sewers was not pleasant after the first week. Many times we could hear loud voices in the sewers…. Tear gas bombs were thrown into the manholes, and the Jews driven out of the sewers and captured. Countless numbers of Jews were liquidated in sewers and bunkers through blasting. The longer the resistance continued, the tougher became the members of the Waffen SS, Police and Wehrmacht, who always discharged their duties in an exemplary manner.”

Stroop recorded that his action at Warsaw eliminated “a proved total of 56,065 people. To that we have to add the number of those killed through blasting, fire, etc., which cannot be counted.” Grim evidence of mass murders of Jews was also presented to the tribunal in cinematograph films depicting the communal graves of hundreds of victims which were subsequently discovered by the Allies.

These atrocities were all part and parcel of the policy inaugurated in 1941, and it is not surprising that there should be evidence that one or two German officials entered vain protests against the brutal manner in which the killings were carried out. But the methods employed never conformed to a single pattern. The massacres of Rowno and Dubno, of which the German engineer Graebe spoke, were examples of one method, the systematic extermination of Jews in concentration camps, was another. Part of the “final solution” was the gathering of Jews from all German occupied Europe in concentration camps. Their physical condition was the test of life or death. All who were fit to work were used as slave labourers in the concentration camps; all who were not fit to work were destroyed in gas chambers and their bodies burnt. Certain concentration camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz were set aside for this main purpose. With regard to Auschwitz, the tribunal heard the evidence of Hoess, the commandant of the camp from May 1, 1940, to Dec. 1, 1943. He estimated that in the camp of Auschwitz alone in that time 2,500,000 persons were exterminated, and that a further 500,000 died from disease and starvation. Hoess described the screening for extermination by stating in evidence:

Rudolf Hoess, a commandant of the Auschwitz Birkenau camp, was executed on April 16, 1947 at the camp, after trial in Poland. Hoess walked calmly to the gallows and, once the hangman put the noose around his neck, moved his head to adjust it. A Polish historical journal, Focus Historia, published a photographic record of the execution on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. The Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Museum has published an account of the German’s last minutes, at auschwitz.org/en/museum/news/auschwitz-commandant-rudolf-hoess-on-the-gallows,461.html. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

Rudolf Hoess, a commandant of the Auschwitz Birkenau camp, was executed on April 16, 1947 at the camp, after trial in Poland. Hoess walked calmly to the gallows and, once the hangman put the noose around his neck, moved his head to adjust it. A Polish historical journal, Focus Historia, published a photographic record of the execution on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. The Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Museum has published an account of the German’s last minutes, at auschwitz.org/en/museum/news/auschwitz-commandant-rudolf-hoess-on-the-gallows,461.html. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

“We had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavoured to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under their clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated.”

He described the actual killing by stating:

“It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one half-hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special commandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.”

Beating, starvation, torture, and killing were general. The inmates were subjected to cruel experiments. At Dachau in August, 1942, victims were immersed in cold water until their body temperature was reduced to 28º C, when they died immediately. Other experiments included high-altitude experiments in pressure chambers, experiments to determine how long human beings could survive in freezing water, experiments with poison bullets, experiments with contagious diseases, and experiments dealing with sterilization of men and women by X-rays and other methods.

Evidence was given of the treatment of the inmates before and after their extermination. There was testimony that the hair of women victims was cut off before they were killed, and shipped to Germany, there to be used in the manufacture of mattresses. The clothes, money and valuables of the inmates were also salvaged and sent to the appropriate agencies for disposition. After the extermination the gold teeth and fillings were taken from the heads of the corpses and sent to the Reichsbank.

After cremation the ashes were used for fertilizer, and in some instances attempts were made to utilize the fat from the bodies of the victims in the commercial manufacture of soap. Special groups travelled through Europe to find Jews and subject them to the “final solution.” German missions were sent to such satellite countries as Hungary and Bulgaria, to arrange for the shipment of Jews to extermination camps and it is known that, by the end of 1944, 400,000 Jews from Hungary had been murdered at Auschwitz. Evidence has also been given of the evacuation of 110,000 Jews from part of Romania for “liquidation.” Adolf Eichmann, who had been put in charge of this program by Hitler, has estimated that the policy pursued resulted in the killing of six million Jews, of which four million were killed in the extermination institutions.

To know more:

 auschwitz.org/en/ is the address of the home page of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

A native of Prague and the son of German-speaking Jews gassed at Auschwitz Saul Friedländer is the greatest living historian of the Holocaust. (His 2008 Pulitzer winner, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939 – 1945, was preceded by at least eight other titles, over 40 years, before its publication.) A lecture he gave in London in 2001 is here:
royalholloway.ac.uk/history/documents/pdf/events/hrfreidlander.pdf

Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, 1996) attributes the Holocaust “eliminationist antisemitism” that was peculiarly German. For a chronicle of the German response to his analysis go to  yadvashem.org.

 — Michael Sasges

~~~

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The Forgotten Concentration Camp

1200px-Alians_PL_Obchody_64_rocznicy_likwidacji_KL_Majdanek_23_07_2008,P7230064

Memorial at the entry gate to the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland. The symbolic Pylon, meant to represent mangled bodies, reads like an abstracted Yiddish sign for the nearby town of Lublin: לובלין ]] Photo by Alians PL, Creative Commons via Wikipedia

By Toby Thacker, Cardiff University, The Conversation
Published on F&O July 23, 2014

On July 23 1944, Soviet Army troops discovered the huge Nazi concentration camp of Majdanek just outside the Polish city of Lublin, virtually intact. Along with a few hundred ill and emaciated survivors, they found plentiful evidence that men, women, and children from all over Europe had been brought to this camp by the SS, and that tens of thousands had been murdered there.

Poland 1

Photo provided by Toby Thacker

As well as the physical structures which we have since come to identify as those of the concentration camp – wooden barracks, the electrified barbed wire fences, the watchtowers, gas chambers, and crematoria – the Soviets found burial pits with the remains of human bodies, and huge quantities of ash strewn over the site. They also found documents, clothing, and more than 800,000 pairs of shoes. From survivors they quickly learnt that Majdanek had been, even in the gruesome realm of Nazi oppression, a place of particular horror.

Today the anniversary of the liberation of Majdanek passes almost unnoticed, unlike that of the liberation of Auschwitz, fully six months later in January 1945, which has been adopted in Britain as Holocaust Memorial Day. In history books, in film and on television, the discovery of the concentration camps in Germany by Allied troops in April 1945 is recognised as a pivotal moment in world history, when humankind had to re-assess its understanding of what one set of people might do to another, after which, in Adorno’s words, it would be barbaric to write poetry.

Those born since 1945 still live in the shadow of these events, conscious of the terrible images of starving prisoners in striped uniforms, of bodies bulldozed into pits, and of the hardened faces of men and women who had presided over this horror. But why has Majdanek been forgotten?

Immediately after the Red Army occupied Majdanek, Soviet, Polish, and Western journalists were taken to the camp. Photographs were taken, newsreel film was shot, and a commission of enquiry was established. Reports were published in the West, but they were typically brief, and even confused.

Poland 3The Times published a short piece from its Moscow correspondent on August 12 1944, entitled The Horrors of Lublin, implying that two separate camps had been discovered, “which suggest medieval conceptions of hell.” It stated that evidence of mass murder had been found, alongside “thousands of pairs of boots and shoes”. This and other reports in Western media highlighted the discovery of gas chambers, something which had been previously rumoured, but not confirmed. There were clearly individual readers who recognised the significance of this moment, but as the war continued, there was no wider impact.

The usual explanation for this is that there was suspicion in the West about how far the Soviets could be trusted, but this is only part of the answer. The suggestion that hundreds of thousands, even millions of people had been murdered in one camp was, at that point, almost incomprehensible. There was in fact similar incredulity when, in January 1945, similar claims were made about Auschwitz.

Only in April 1945, when dozens more camps and sites of atrocity in Germany were uncovered, and when film of these camps was shown across Europe and America was there a wider acceptance that millions had indeed been murdered. As the history of the Holocaust was gradually uncovered at the Nuremberg Trial, and in succeeding decades, Majdanek, now hidden behind the Iron Curtain, was only one part of this.

Majdanek was not forgotten in Poland. The camp was turned into a museum, and efforts were made to restore the site. The first war crimes trial was held there in the autumn of 1944, and several of the staff indicted at that process were sentenced to death. In 1968 two huge memorials designed by Wiktor Tolkin were built there. Through the Cold War, Polish schoolchildren were taken to Majdanek, and since 1989 some visitors from other countries have been there.

But Majdanek has not become part of the international “Holocaust tourism” circuit. When I visited in March 2007, there were more crows than people at the bleak and exposed site of the camp. Today, Majdanek presents a serious challenge to all who are concerned with memory and our knowledge of the past. Its largely wooden buildings and their fragile contents are rotting. In 2010 a fire destroyed thousands of pairs of shoes in one barrack which had previously offered a mute testimony to the suffering of their former wearers. Should the camp be preserved for the future? Its grim structures will need continued restoration, and in some cases outright replacement if the answer to this question is yes.

In the meantime, the wind sweeps over the vast expanse of the camp, and crows perch on the rusting barbed wire. The watchtowers, barracks, and fences are horribly visible to the people of Lublin whose windows overlook the site, and who drive past on the main road to Zamość. Now, 70 years on, we must not forget what happened there.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Toby Thacker does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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