Remembering the Wannsee Conference and the Liberation of Auschwitz
This article is posted as part of the January 27, 2005, BlogBurst (see list of participating sites at bottom of post), to remember the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, sixty years ago, on January 27, 1945.
Words are inadequate to describe the cold calculation with which the members at the meeting at Wannsee (January 20, 1942) worked out, in meticulous detail, the intent to murder "roughly eleven million Jews." Words are inadequate to describe the degradation, torment, and torture to which the Jews of Europe were subjected as they were herded from their homes into over-crowded ghettoes and transit camps and cut off from the rest of the world. There, they died by the hundreds of thousands from starvation, disease, and execution. But the worst was yet to come.
Auschwitz symbolizes this worst and the worst in mankind --a literal hell on earth, the sole purpose of which was the extermination of men, women, and children. In this hell between three and four million people, mostly Jews, but also Poles and Red Army POWs, were slaughtered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. But Auschwitz was not unique; there was also Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Belzec and Majdanek --factories of death that worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year to murder as many "undesirables" as was inhumanly possible. In these "camps" the use of Zyklon B to gas the victims was the murder weapon of choice. On some days, in Auschwitz alone, more than 10,000 human beings were "processed" -crammed into these chambers of death and then their bodies burned in the crematoria and in mass graves. And then, of course, there were the hundreds of other concentration camps that, while not equipped with working gas chambers, nonetheless did their part to solve the "Jewish Question" through wholesale murder and starvation. Anne Frank perished in one of these camps: Bergen-Belsen, just days before liberation. In all, more than 6 million Jews were murdered between the years 1939 and 1945.
Six million. We hear this number and yet the mind cannot comprehend, cannot conceive, this abstract concept: "6 million people." It is overwhelming, monolithic. A number. In hearing "6 million" it is easy to feel a distance, to lose the understanding that this number represents individuals, each and every one of whom had hopes and dreams, livelihoods and loved ones, entire stories and histories that we can now never know. We cannot know their individual suffering. They have no voices to tell us.
The tiny fraction who did manage to survive the ghettoes and camps of death bear the burden to not only tell their own story but to stand as representatives for all those who did not. Their stories must be told and they are stories we must hear. Words are inadequate to describe what they experienced, what they suffered, what those who now have no voice went through. But words are all we have. It is important to listen to their words to put a name, a face, an individual story to the incomprehensible. It is important to remember that there were 6 million people, each as unique and with their own lives and stories as
Tova Friedman, Benjamin Jacobs ("the dentist of Auschwitz"), and Gloria. Many more individual stories can be found here.
Equally incomprehensible is that fact that, for a long time, the Allies were well aware of the mass murder, but deliberately refused to bomb the camp or the railways leading to it. Ironically, during the Polish uprising, the Allies had no hesitation in flying aid to Warsaw, sometimes flying right over Auschwitz.
There are troubling parallels between the systematic vilification of Jews before the Holocaust and the current vilification of the Jewish people and Israel. Suffice it to note the annual flood of anti-Israel resolutions at the UN; or the public opinion polls taken in Europe, which single out Israel as a danger to world peace; or the divestment campaigns being waged in the US against Israel; or the attempts to delegitimize Israel’s very existence. The complicity of the Allies in WW II is mirrored by the support the PLO has been receiving from Europe, China and Russia to this very day.
Please take the time to visit some of the other sites participating in this January, 2005, BlogBurst of Rememberance for more information, more perspectives, and more ways to remind us all: Never forget. Never again.