“..Willingly or not we come to terms with power ..forgetting that we are all in ..ghetto. ..that ..ghetto is walled in. ..that outside ..ghetto reign ..lords of death ..and that close by ..train is waiting.” Primo Levi.
Firstly! I make no excuses for borrowing from those whose Survival has managed to inform, educate and even add a newer dimension of comprehension to a Catastrophe of monumental proportions. That monument to a failed ideology is the Catastrophe known to History as The Holocaust. That now represents what was Hitler’s world view and has been a part of setting a murderous precedence which has plagued the World ever since. Secondly! There is, in seeking any form of justice for what here was perpetrated, an unfortunate aspect to any form of retribution which manages to get even with all too many of those who are not guilty of the crimes we require this justice for. Even when the World is well aware of the full horrors to emerge from The Holocaust, justice was not served for 6,000,000 Murdered Jews of Europe.
“..Jews ..look. ..Look at ..fire. ..Look at ..flames. ..as ..train stopped ..this time we saw flames rising from a tall chimney into a black sky.” Elie Wiesel.
History will continually remind us however, of what happened in the Death Camps, Concentration Camps, Killing Sites, Cities, Towns, Shtetl’s and Ghetto’s, some pre-existing Hitler but all established by him to contain his prey until he could move relentlessly against them. The tempest which blew these Jewish People toward a significant conflagration, is a symbolic fire of immense hatred which then fully consumed them! That Hitler’s 8,000,000 Nazi ideologues remained, ostensibly unchallenged by the thematic resonance of any form of Justice, is a shocking detail in itself! But we must more closely explore that lack of judicial prudence, and with a not too exacting requirement to give the judicious term its full compliment! It is though perhaps, a lesson in all that we study, that we will learn even a little of why The Holocaust itself was allowed to happen.
“..when hatred and defamation quietly germinate ..we have to be alert ..on guard. ..legacy of ..victims of Auschwitz. ..dead were strong ..in their destruction they displayed a strength. ..Can ..living ..be any weaker?” Lucie Adelsberger.
For me, even if we never gain a full insight into why it was not prevented, we will learn more than we care to know it would appear. From those lucky enough and who Survived what was intended for them, and from those many who did not survive and have gifted what we have taken from the evidence’s they have left behind, it is mainly from those who did not Survive that we must learn the lesson’s of human tolerance. It is after all, that with an understanding and an appreciation for all those who might just differ from us that our humanity is borne. For those 6,000,000 Jews who reached the place of Destruction, it was there at journey’s end, where swift decisions had to be made. These conclusions had to be split second resolutions all the while gathering information at break neck speed. By sheer chance some managed to survive far longer than those whose misfortune it was that would send them, unwilling passenger’s all, left toward Destruction or right, only for a temporary stay of execution.
“..if ..world could become convinced ..Auschwitz never existed ..it would be easier to build ..second Auschwitz .. and ..no assurance it would devour only Jews”. Primo Levi.
Always remember, that deferment was always intended to be a temporary measure until those who had preceded them had been processed, dealt with and eliminated. As for those other’s, those who remained outside this realm of ruin, whose very journey caught a whiff of what met those selected Jews who would not survive, these sorry and weary traveller’s headed back on their journey’s end. They moved away from what was clearly not intended for other than the Jews. That this evolutionary resolve was so resolute in Hitler’s conviction is clear, and that it should be an exclusively Jewish fate! Make no mistake though, once Hitler had resolved the Jewish Question, he would return to affix other’s to that debauched article of rancid hatred for all whom he considered different and unworthy of life. But what of these other traveller’s who left the scene of pending destructiveness for those Jews sent there to Auschwitz and Birkenau. They too had come from all corners of Europe?
“..After we had heard ..account from Vilna ..on ..one hand ..and ..Chelmno on ..other ..we believed that this was being done systematically. I must say that in ..previous years ..even we could not picture to ourselves that a nation in ..20th. century would indeed execute a death sentence on an entire people. We asked ourselves more than once ..They are degrading us ..they are suppressing us ..are they truly thinking of destroying all of us? We did not believe it. ” Zivia Lubetkin.
Some of these other passengers, who had visited the area to meet as the Sons and Daughters of the Reich, may or may not have known what their Parents were Perpetrating? Some were merely local bystanders caught up in the flurry of travel to places of work, worship or enterprise. True, these might well be the innocent bystanders or relatives who saw practically nothing, but carried away with them the knowledge of what happened to a condemned People. That this was affixed with the ash of a conflagration they did not even sense, cannot be realistically acknowledged. These many also, who heard nothing of the tumult, became deaf to the turmoil of destruction which was clearly within earshot of their leisurely pursuits. Those other sounds, distracting in some capricious way, muffled the sheer indifference of what pervades the arena between life and destruction! For all of those, who witnessed nothing at all, but surely must have smelt the endeavour of those committed to Hitler’s radical solution to a Jewish concern, the scent has burned into them a lack of their own humanity!
“..Seventy years ago ..after our nation’s German occupation ..Nazi overlords and ..Hungarian authorities that collaborated with them seemed to fulfil ..will of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.” Janos Ader.
That sought after, selective, approached and approved solution, existed in more than the 6 Death Camps Hitler established in Poland. On Railway Stations alongside these Death Camps of systematic destruction, traveller’s were as visible to the Jewish victim’s as the Jews were so invisible to these so weary of journeying. This whole Hitler approach was a radical concern that would foment into a fully fledged Genocide. This was all as a consequence, and of an awareness by all too many who should have rebelled against the tide of horror and terror all of which proved indifferent to the very abject Jewish struggle stood before them. All at once, and as defined by Raphael Lemkin, who could barely comprehend nor appreciate the twisted logic of what was emerging, termed a reference to The Holocaust with a genocidal certainty. While contemplating the sordid barbarism of Hitler’s ‘Weltanschauung’, which merged the shield of a World War with a vengeful eradication of an innocent Jewish People, Lemkin has lent posterity a term that is now grossly overused, constantly utilised to issue retribution’s, and fixing future intolerance’s with further hatred’s.
“..pushed in ..cattle cars like sardines. We were dirty ..buckets for ..urine ..bowel movements. ..a small ..window ..barbed wire over it ..no air except ..from that little window. ..we travelled like this ..3 ..4 days. ..dawn. ..I saw lights ..fire from far away. ..a chimney ..with fire going. ..thought they were factories. ..We will be able to work. ..told ..to leave ..luggage. packages ..we had to leave on ..ground. ..separated ..men ..from ..women. ..didn’t ..have time to say goodbye to my uncle ..my aunt. ..in front of the Germans ..guided us ..right or ..left. ..told me to go to ..right ..told my aunt to go ..left. I never saw her again. ..15 years old ..all alone in this hell. ..told us to undress ..that we were going to be showered ..that they were going to give us clothes. ..place was freezing cold. ..stayed there for hours to wait for our clothes. No towels to dry ..no food. ..finally ..gave us ..clothes ..put us in barracks. ..tattooed. ..My name is A-5143.” Lily Appelbaum.
Germany and those of the German peoples who sank into an abyss of depravity, which will scold the History of the time with accusation and the betrayal of civilised humanity, have much to contend with. The historical damnation, and with a resolute urging to ensure that this must never happen again, which has so far failed, this is not for the want of Germany or the German attempt to place a marker and establish the Truth above all other consideration’s. Here at this juncture and with realisation, as Lemkin was not alone in appreciating the prescient nature of what he now surveyed, a conscious World has moved forward in remembering. With an immediate awareness that became totally shocked though and with the reality that the integrity of humanity was shredded, a World grew aghast. This World of ours was traumatically transfixed by the realisation, and that what Hitler had preached, Hitler had clearly delivered.
“..flames could be seen from 15 or 20 kilometres ..people knew ..human beings were being burned there.” Adolf Bartelmes.
This further sank civilisation into a mire of recrimination, accusation and even soul searching. How many though, of these Sons and Daughters of the Reich have failed to even acknowledge the unprecedented atrocity committed in their midst? In their name and even with their clear duplicity, those Children of the Nazi era have yet to deliver all the knowledge which we know is available. There is the Camp personnel, and even those active in der Einsatzgruppe upon returning to Auschwitz for recuperation or training, knew the truth and must have passed on that fact to some, or even all of those they knew or were acquainted with. For me, as I stand on this Station platform, it is clear, and not just to me, that there is much not to see for those too busy with sights they can shelter from. If it is necessary for travel to motion forward, it is essential to see all the way toward that eventual destination.
“..smokestacks ..KZ Auschwitz ..visible from IG Farben Auschwitz. ..IG people who visited Auschwitz ..Walter Duffield ..other engineers ..smelled ..odour of burning bodies. ..a terrible stench.” Christian Schneider.
One cannot perpetually move forward, for with a blinkered view of what surrounds us we allow ourselves to stagnate and even cease. But this moment for me is not just on a platform which led elsewhere, and remember, it was not that long ago that those other’s stood here to witness nothing at all. However, for this journey of mine, which is not toward the destruction that once awaited those Jews and other’s who moved incessantly toward a differing rail spur, it is a reminder of how close to the detail of what destruction met all those Jews and other’s who had passed them by along this very same route I now stood alongside. That other destination, which is further along, though within eyesight, earshot and merely a sensory perception away, is a motion, a moment further away from the Dworzec PKP Oswiecim Train Station. That another selected route could so resettle its human cargo finally, as it heads toward Auschwitz KL and then on to the Birkenau Death Camp, is a salutary reminder of what can be denied if it is not chosen as selected evidence.
“..While not all ..victims of ..Nazi’s were Jews ..all Jews were victims.” Elie Wiesel.
How many unwilling witnesses give even a glance in the Jews direction? From the relative safe distance, and from what transits as normal for the hundred’s of thousands of those who must have travelled past Oswiecim, this is a universe away from the planet where Hitler’s lackey’s engaged in all forms of terror and brutality. Also, it is not that far distant from the stench of a hatred imbued into a radical Hitlerite idea. It is a view that was to be shielded by a World War which was destined to be lost. In the mean time though, with a more ideological resolve that had been initiated by Hitler, there was a certain resolve which 6,000,000 Jews were affixed to in a very final solution. That hate filled answer to Hitler’s demands was so extreme, that History has required a Genocidal term to incorporate all that had been levelled against the Jews of Europe. That term which we know is The Holocaust has been the source of the gravest pain to reach a sensitised world.
“..Since ..campaigns of murder were conducted with ..strictest secrecy ..there was considerable temptation to delude one’s conscience into believing that ..deeds committed outside any social control never happened. Who was ..to ask at home ..what was done to ..unknown Jew in ..forest near Minsk or behind ..barbed wire of Auschwitz.” Hans Buckheim.
Here, as trains motioned effortlessly toward any and all conceivable destinations within Poland, and even the European Continent, these other passengers surely must have caught the stench of much that was omnipresent? But what had already been known to that wider World at other ends of this converging railway line, singles out those who have not delivered their evidence of what was known. Now though, and within the vicinity in which these other passengers entrained and came to rest at Oswiecim, not one of them who sensed anything, must now reflect perversely that today they do not know a thing about what was happening under their very noses? Curious! Meanwhile, the stench of hypocrisy permeates this atmosphere of sham failures, whether indifference occupied them as to what was clearly in evidence merely 1,000 metres from the centre of their own closed universe.
“..I was ..struck by ..enormous tongues of flame rising between ..lightning rods ..which were set at angles on ..square tops of ..chimney.” Miklos Nyiszli.
Tragically, what failed us all at such a propitious moment was the clear lack of humanity engaged by so many. It is clearly in the interests therefore, of those knowledgeable, who stood as witnesses to what we seek, for them not to acknowledge the weight of their guilt. But when the overwhelming evidence is so damning, and cannot be so simply denied, many choose to even ignore the truth, and convinced of this course of action, deny the authenticity of their own History and the veracity of our History that should have been assigned to it. Here, at this junction between what passed as normal, and what persisted as abnormal, a certain humanity is consumed, a hatred is shared, intolerance’s persist and a sheer indifference to what struggles for so many Jewish People, took place within all sensory perceptions and is supposed to become negated in time.
“..All things considered ..I would rather have been on Schindler’s list than on Mengele’s list. But I now know that it was better to be on Mengele’s list than on nobody’s list at all.” Eva Mozes Kor.
Also, and while this was merely 70 years ago, it is not credible to accept the shortness of sight which distance in time cannot engender! It is hardly a distance however, which the clearest conscience could satisfy itself with! Not even the blind could deny that not too much out of the ordinary stood barely a 10 minute walk away and could all too easily be ignored by so many. We even know from the Evidence of those rail road officials who testified to the fact, that not only could the smoke, which billowed forth in an endless smog of devastation and could be seen, but the flames could be discerned from a distance of 15 to 20 Kilometres away! Did I mention that the main platforms at the Train Station Oswiecim stood less that 1 Kilometre from the centre of this space of destruction? How then is it possible that none of the literally thousand’s, ten’s of thousand’s and even hundred’s of thousand’s of witnesses to The Holocaust, who passed by on a routine weekly transit did not see, did not attest, and even claimed that they did not know that they were in the vicinity of the most lethal Death Camp in all of Poland?
“..When 4,000,000 have died in Auschwitz ..I shall know how to die as well.” Hermann Langbein.
Surely someone saw what they should have been prepared to relay to other’s, rather than contain the information within themselves? On a Daily basis, 10,000 Jews of Europe were consumed in these flames, their smoke and ash filling the nostrils of every single passenger trying to ignore the fact of the atrocity they were being presented with. The ash of 1,100,000 Jews settled upon all those travellers who traversed Poland, passing Oswiecim, as they delivered the ash of these consumed Jews to every corner of that Country and to many parts of Europe which had already seen their Jews removed previously toward Auschwitz. It should be pointed out that we remain uncertain as to the exact detail of the Catastrophe. Estimates exist which are in excess of 4,000,000 Murdered Jews having been Gassed and otherwise killed within the confines of Auschwitz and certainly Birkenau.
“..gas chambers worked day and night. ..crematorium chimneys belched not only smoke ..but pillars of fire 3 ..4 metres high.” Filip Friedman.
These early assessments of the catastrophe, which were made in light of what Hoess himself acknowledged could all too easily be achieved, and as Camps the length and breadth of Hitler’s rampage through History brought their own resolve to the account, we might yet balk at the very conservative nature of the overall assessment. All of these Camps combined to give Hitler his overall objective and these have been made to shed further light on the atrocity of the Camp system and the Death Camps in particular. We do still have estimates made at the time which are more aligned with those we persist with today. The War Refugee Board has assessed this Final Solution at 1,765,000 Gassed Jews in Birkenau, and this was November 1944. As late as 1965, Dr. Rudolf Vrba confirmed his own assessment as being 1,760,000 Jews having been Gassed in Birkenau. Reluctantly we accept the assessment is 1,100,000 Jews Murdered in Auschwitz. We do so, as a measure which will draw a line from which we can then begin to access all the remaining relevant information and come up with a more comprehensive evaluation.
“..Our family was sent to Auschwitz. ..My sister and I ..sent to one side ..my mother ..my little brother to ..other. ..it all happened so fast ..I looked around ..they were already gone. To Birkenau. ..where gas chambers where. My little brother was 15.” Fela Drybus.
What certainly pollutes the mind of any Christian person, who once stood here as the smoke belched forward, as the stench of burning flesh burned the nostrils of passengers and as the decay of humanity was so literally destroyed, is that far too many present a smoke screen of denial. The picture today has altered the landscape of History in so many diverging though convergent ways. However, the stain of any failure to acknowledge the Truth of what was known, what was witnessed and what was definitely sensed will stunt the growth of any moral humanity. A people cannot grow that does not acknowledge its own place in real time! All of this supposedly forgotten evidence has emanated merely metres from this vantage point were I now stand.
“..Dear finder of these notes ..I have one request of you ..which is ..in fact ..practical objective for my writing ..that my days of Hell ..that my hopeless tomorrow will find a purpose in ..future. I am transmitting only a part of what happened in ..Birkenau ..Auschwitz Hell. You will realise what reality looked like. ..From all this you will have a picture of how our people perished.” Zalman Gradowski.
But, as these other travellers went on their merry way and these same others transgressed their presence into a cruel and shameful episode in all of our History, I take note and ensure my own self as to why I will seek Always to Remember, Never to Forget. It is essential therefore, that while we are not 6,000,000 miles away from the gates which mark the entrance to an estate, where work through freedom is defined in a destructive capacity, we ensure respect is maintained for the memory of those Jewish Citizens, and all other nationals consumed there. It is pure mockery however, of all those Jews and other’s who evidence the gate was not in the least a chance for life, though it was a working life, but a life none the less measured by the approach of destruction! I would like to conclude this offering, to all those who passed this way, those 6,000,000 Jews of The Holocaust, and as a reminder to posterity not to Forget them and always to Remember them.
“..These are ..experiences of one person alone ..a drop in ..vast immeasurable ocean. Without doubt there will be others who return alive from Oswiecim ..who will talk. There will be others who will come back from many other camps. ..majority will never return ..will never talk.” Seweryna Szmaglewska.
With having read so much that is available on the subject of The Holocaust, it was somewhat ironic, chilling in fact, that as I walked through Birkenau, and after I had been faced with the reality of some whose Survival was touching me directly, two Books sprang to mind, and they are both titled, Smoke Over Birkenau. The Authors of these two works, essential to grasp the depth of despair facing those on the other side of the tracks, and being amazed at the sheer lack of hatred, they are Liana Millu and Seweryna Szmaglewska. The reason I mention these two Books in particular is, in conversation with other’s I was walking alongside, as we struggled to come to terms with what happened here in Birkenau, and what struggles those seeking to survive must have met, I noticed in a far corner of the compound, workers were burning debris and leaves, and indeed there was Smoke Over Birkenau.
“..same old routine ..one foot in front ..other. Everything is forever ..same in ..lager ..pitilessly ..hopelessly ..same ..each hour brings ..same acts ..same commands ..same everything ..until soon even your thoughts take ..same predictable track ..making ..same fixed stops ..war ..home ..getting back ..a chronic sameness that becomes a torture.” Liana Millu.
This was a point of reference where History and I met, and it confirmed for me that I should continue my effort in the hope that more will learn from the destruction of the 6,000,000 Jews of Europe. It is striking that questions can still be asked in Class Rooms as to what The Holocaust was, and there are failings. Yet there are some who are far more able to state a lack of knowledge than to admit to that same incapacity which those other travellers could have so easily lent them. If we cannot yet learn from the attempted deconstruction of the past, what contrives the present will prevent the future from the knowledge of what was attempted, what was done and what was achieved by Hitler and his minions in The Holocaust!
“..You weigh on me ..you whom I lost in death. You’ve given me ..silent charge to live for you ..for me ..to erase ..debt of your extermination.” Viktor E. Frankl.