Even after 70 years, pronunciation of the word still evokes feelings of terror, alarm, and revulsion among civilized societies. Even after 70 years, the full scope of the horror and atrocities committed there has not been totally documented. Last week, January 27th to be exact, marked the 70th anniversary since the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Russian troops. There was a major ceremony that day at the camp, with dignitaries from nations around the world in attendance. Camp survivors numbering about 300 now were also there, with some giving testimony as to the nature of their hellish experiences. A decade ago there were 1500 survivors in attendance at the 60th anniversary ceremony, but slowly their numbers continue to dwindle. The youngest of the remaining survivors is now in their late 70s. The buildings and gas chambers are empty now in the dreary cold; but to their credit, about 1.5 million tourists are visiting the Auschwitz every year to experience first hand, the epicenter of the human capacity to perform total, undiluted evil. An evil that could not have been perpetrated by Hitler and his Nazi thugs alone, without the willing accomplices of tens of thousands of civilian bureaucrats that organized and shipped all the logistics to that camp, including the poison gas that killed so many. As if they were manufacturing and shipping clothing to a department store. The banality of evil, as some have called it.
Auschwitz is located in northern Poland and was part of a network concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazis starting in September 1941, that included nearby Birkenau. The camps were built in response to Hitler’s “final solution” regarding European Jews, which was their total annihilation. A system of of railway tracks brought trains filled with supplies into the camps on a daily basis. The Holocaust murdered 6 million European Jews, 1.1 million of whom were killed at Auschwitz. Thanks, in large part, to the efforts of tens of thousands of faceless bureaucrats that came into play. Another 100 thousand people, mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime, or Gypsies, were also slaughtered there. Auschwitz was staffed by about 7000 Nazi goons, but only a small handful of higher ranking officers were ever brought to justice. The rest of the murderers lived out their lives un scathed by the Allied justice system. One officer, Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was captured by the British in March 1946, brought to trial, and hung for his crimes in 1947. Mass murder, torture and starvation were not the only crimes committed at Auschwitz. Nazi criminals such as Dr. Josef Mengele performed gruesome medical experiments on on prisoners which usually resulted in their agonizing deaths. As I’ve written before, Mengele escaped the Allies dragnet, and made his way to South America after the war, ending up in Brazil. He supposedly drowned while swimming off the coast off Brazil in 1979.
Life at Auschwitz usually began at 3 in the morning when all prisoners had to come out into the yard for attendance. Even the ones that died during the night. After shivering for 4 hours in the freezing cold, Nazi troops would arrive at 7 AM to take roll call. All prisoners had to be accounted for, even the dead ones. If any were found missing, troops were promptly sent out to search for them. Almost all potential escapees were eventually hunted down and immediately shot to death. Those prisoners that weren’t dispatched to the gas chambers were given grueling work to perform all day, with little or no food. Starvation in the concentration camps was endemic. When supreme allied commander Dwight Eisenhower and his forces entered Auschwitz a few days after the Russians, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The Nazis had fled and left behind a few thousand prisoners that were like walking skeletons. Piles of corpses lay everywhere. Eisenhower stated that it was like descending into the pits of Hell, and that it made him ashamed of his German heritage.
With the destruction of the Third Reich in 1945, the anti-semitism that had prevailed in Europe for 2000 years, and that gave rise to the Nazi empire, was supposedly laid to rest. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs could not have achieved their spectacular successes in evil domination and mass murder, if hatred and persecution of Jews had not been ingrained into the fabric of the European psyche for the past 2 millennia. Along with the many pogroms against Jews during that period. So it seemed that Jew-hating in Europe during the decades after WWII was finally discredited and became a thing in the past. But in actuality,it was just laying low, waiting for the opportune time to rise again. Now after 7 decades, it’s re-gaining its sea legs. The new rise of anti-semitism in Europe, is, in reality, just a return to the norm. The past persecution and pogroms against Jews were always the norm until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly where-in anti-semitism became socially unacceptable. The hiatus is over, however.
The killings of 4 Jews at a kosher food store in France a few weeks ago only gained prominence because it was done in conjunction with the murders at Charlie Hebdo. But the previous murders of a Rabbi and 3 school children in Toulouse garnered virtually no world-wide attention. Nor do terror attacks against Jews that have now become common in many other European nations. There are movements all across Europe (and most prominently, with our supposed allies) to boycott Israeli products, or even to expel in-country Jewish populations. It has now become respectable again in Europe to despise Jews. No more hiding in the shadows. European anti-semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It’s a European problem, a stain on the human condition, a continent-wide disease that Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself from. And the size of this tumor continues to grow.
Hatred for any group based on their religion, skin color, ethnicity or for any other reason always occurs when the group in question is a minority. It’s the bully’s mentality at play. Among school children, the bully and his gang can always beat up a defenseless kid to compensate for their feelings of self-loathing. Among adults, the bully mentality transforms into hatred and discrimination for some minority group that similarly is in no position to take on the much larger majority. Another insidious aspect of the human condition.