Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Arbeit macht frei

This slogan stands above the entrance to the former concentration camp at Auschwitz Birkenau in present-day Poland. I already referred to it over the weekend, after a most appalling policy decision by the Vatican - to exonerate a Holocaust denier. Antonella reminded me of the actual Auschwitz Memorial Day. Which is today.

Go back more than 64 years. Imagine an operation on a continental scale. In all countries, occupied by Nazi Germany, Jews, Roma, homosexuals and others are rounded up in raids. Why? Because they were Jews. Because they did not conform to the notion of a supreme race, the Aryan Race. They were taken by train to concentration camps in their countries of origin. The trains weren't first, second or third class. The people travelled standing up in cattle trucks. The trains travelled all across Europe to converge on another concentration camp, in this case Auschwitz / Birkenau. Upon arrival, the people were taken out of the carriages and lined up. Some were ordered to go right. Others had to go left.

Those going right were taken to a bath house, and ordered to remove all clothing, for the purposes of delousing. Luggage they had to abandon too. Men, women, children, irrespective of age or social standing were taken to the bath chamber, which had showerheads hanging from the ceiling. They were packed inside. The last to leave, an officer with Hitler's Schutz Staffel (lifeguard), threw in a handful of crystals and quickly closed the door.

Half an hour later, the door was opened again. All inside were dead. Poisoned by hydrogen cyanide gas, which kills within minutes. Their bodies were carted out and taken to furnaces, to be incinerated.

Each person was methodically logged, with proverbial German Gründlichkeit. Their clothes, cases, spectacles, shoes and hair were all removed and stored. They remain there to this day.

Those going left were taken into the camp, and ordered to do hard labour. Help with the abovementioned process. The labour was not matched by nutritional intake, leading to severe starvation.

This mass murder on an industrial scale should be engraved upon the conscience of Europe. Because it is not solely the fault of the Germans that this came to pass. World War I was terminated in such a way that the Germans were bled white for reparations, leaving them open for a despot to take charge that promised them a restoration of self-esteem, heaping blame upon the Jews or any other segment of population. Had the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, signed in that railway carriage at Compiègne, been equitable to the vanquished - but it wasn't.

Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, Theresienstadt, Westerbork - need I go on listing the names of the concentration camps in Germany and beyond?

Never again.

1 comment:

Sybil said...

No need Guido There are just to many camps to be reminded of. My sister wasstaying near where the camp at Belsen was and said when she visited it was one of the most harrowing vists and not even the birds were singing.
All it takes for evil to flourish is for good to keep silent...
Take care,
Love Sybil xx