Posts Tagged With: anti-semitism

AUSCHWITZ, 70 YEARS LATER

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.

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A BOTTOMLESS PIT

In May 1974 a group of Palestinian terrorists entered Israel from Lebanon, and made their way to the Israeli town of Ma’alot. Over a period of days they murdered several Israelis and then entered an Israeli public school. Heavily armed with grenades and bombs as well as guns, they took 115 hostages, mainly school children, and demanded that a bunch of Palestinian terrorists sitting in Israeli jails be released. Israel refused to accede to their demands and the hostage crises dragged on for 2 days. Finally an elite squad of Israeli troops burst into the school and killed the Palestinians; but not before the terrorists had murdered 25 hostages, 22 of which were school children. Proving once again that the capacity for evil in the human condition is a bottomless pit.

I was reminded of this event when a couple of weeks ago, Taliban terrorists burst into a Pakistani school and slaughtered 150 people, a 132 of which were also school children. The concept behind this act, according to the Taliban mindset, was to have the parents grieve and suffer miserably for the rest of their lives, due to the loss of their most precious loved ones. Here it was a case of Muslims killing other Muslims because of ideological differences. The Taliban are fanatical Islamic terrorists, and those that don’t share their lunatic religious beliefs are fair game for slaughter. It’s the type of religious fanaticism that has given the world the recently formed ISIS terrorists who now control large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and are on the march to expand their empire. They love to feature beheadings of civilians they consider apostates, all in the name of being faithful to Allah. How many people over the centuries and millennia have lost their lives in the name of religion, by those who believe they’re invoking God’s will here on Earth.

So here we are on Christmas Eve when the world is overflowing with bright lights and gifts and all sorts of merriment and festivities, to say nothing of goodwill toward man. At least that’s the way it’s portrayed in most of the Christian world where Christianity is heralded as a religion of peace and love. And today, that religion that was begun by a  young Jewish Rabbi and his impoverished disciples over 2000 years ago does, for the most part, preach peace and love. But it wasn’t always so. One only has to go back to the Spanish Inquisition a few centuries ago when mostly Jews, but some Muslims also, were tortured or burned at the stake, in the name of Jesus, in order to save their souls. After all, isn’t that what God would have wanted.

Actually, Europe has a rich history of Christian hatred toward Jews going back  almost two millennia since the Roman Empire destroyed the state of Israel and dispersed its Hebrew residents into mainly various European countries. Almost from the beginning of the rise of Christianity in Europe, Jews were called “Christ-killers” and subjected to intense hatred and discrimination throughout the continent. Never mind that Jesus himself was a Jew, and had always preached a philosophy of peace. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” I believe is one of his more famous proclamations. All this was obviously ignored, as a series of pogroms against Jews throughout most of Europe was begun and continued through the centuries. Pogroms were where people got up in the morning and decided it would be great sport to set upon the town’s Jewish population, either killing or robbing them, or sending them into exile. It was rare to find a European that wasn’t anti-semitic, and persecution of Jews was the name of the game.

The end result of all this anti-semitism throughout the ages was finally the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in Nazi Germany and the ensuing Holocaust. Hitler, and his band of Nazi thugs, could not have thrived as well as they did had not Europe experienced a rich heritage of hatred toward Jews. The Holocaust could not have been as successful as it was, i.e. the murder of 6 million innocent people, had not hundreds of thousands of Germans, as well as people in the conquered countries, participated so willingly in the logistics of shipping millions of people to death camps, and manufacturing the chemicals necessary to cause their deaths. Indeed, Hitler’s intense hatred of Jews was itself a product of the anti-semiticism and persecution of Jews that Europe had experienced since the rise of Christianity. Virtually all Europeans had been brainwashed into believing that anti-semitism was really a good thing.Talk about the bottomless pit of evil in the human condition.

With the destruction of the Nazi empire in 1945, Europeans were supposedly being cured of of their anti-semitic beliefs. After all, they had experienced, first hand, the death and destruction those instincts had caused. But Jew-hating amongst Europeans never really went away; it just became more covert. It was no longer fashionable for Europeans to express out loud how much they despised Jews. But those that were able to overhear conversations among young like-minded Germans or other those in other countries, recognized that the affliction of anti-semitism was still thriving in the European blood-stream. In recent years, anti-semitism has moved from the shadows into the open once again in Europe, especially since the disparate number of deaths that occurred in the latest shootout between Israel and Gaza. Several European countries have now called for boycotts of all Israeli products as well as other harmful sanctions. Mass protests against Israel in most European countries have become routine.

For anti-semitisim, or any hatred toward any religious or ethnic group to thrive, two things have to occur. The first is that the group you’re venting your hatred for has to be a small minority, and thus, incapable of defending itself in the long run against the larger, more powerful majority. The second thing is that the hater must despise some aspect of him or herself, and thus seeks to deflect that self-hatred by seeking vengeance against a relatively defenseless minority. Thus, the bottomless pit of evil begins with self-loathing.

In any event, it’s Christmas Eve, so by all means go out and have your Christmas dinners, drink to excess, exchange gifts and party on. For some people, however, this won’t be possible. People that are lying in hospitals, too sick to get out of bed. People that will die tonight. And people that are unfortunate enough to live in those parts of the world overrun by by religious fanaticism and terrorism. The very bottomless pit of evil.

 

 

 

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