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Auschwitz Concentration Camp
(Thursday 18 April 2018)  

 

I visited Auschwitz towards the end of January 2019 - 74 years, almost to the day, after it was liberated. It was a sombre visit and seeing the place and the artifacts, brought to life the horror of that time in a way a book or television documentary can't. 

I have produced a book with some of my photographs together with a brief history and my thoughts for the future. Could the holocaust happen again. 

You can download the book here. (This is my first version and the text may be amended or added to with a view of publication later in the year.)

But a word of warning. Some of my descriptions and pictures are quite graphic.

Next year, 2020, will be the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Along with the end of hostilities and the defeat of Hitler's Nazis, next year also marks 75 years since the liberation of the concentration camps such as Auschwitz.

The allies were aware of these camps and there was some debate of what to do about these atrocities but the full scale was not known until their liberation.

Russian troops entered the Auschwitz camp on 27 January 1945, this date subsequently recognised as Holocaust Memorial Day.

But how did the world end up with allowing such horrors to be committed?

Whilst Britain and the Allied forces were seen as the victors of World War One, Germany went through a turbulent period in it's history. Immediately after the end of hostilities, financially, Germany was in a stronger position that the Allies, but the Treaty of Versailles forced the Germans to pay compensation. The admission by Germany of blame and financial responsibility for the War created humiliation amongst the German population leading to increased nationalistic feelings.

This led to social and economic depression. Unemployment soared and inflation made the German currency worthless. The new German government, called the Weimar Republic, struggled to maintain democracy.

Adolf Hitler was a corporal in the German army and had fought in the war. He was attracted to the National Socialist People's Party and at their invitation, became their leader. He was a powerful and charismatic speaker and gained wide support from the public. He was appointed Chancellor in January 1933.

Hitler was a racist long before this though. He long believed that there existed a 'master' race of physically fit, racially pure people called Ayrans and he saw this group as the future for Europe.

After the first world war, many in Germany looked for a scapegoat and for some it was the Jewish community. In the past Jewish communities have been the scapegoat in Germany and other European countries.

Hitler saw Jewish people as a race rather than a religion and following the Nuremberg Race Laws (1935) being enacted, Jewish people in Germany had their citizenship revoked and had many restriction placed on them.

Hitler's final solution to the "Jewish Problem" was to rid Germany of all Jews. But it wasn't just Jews that Hitler hated.

The Nazis would use the latest technology in poisonous gassing to exterminate all Jews, Gypsies, dissidents, the disabled and prisoners of war.

Reading of the atrocities is harrowing enough but to visit a place like Auschwitz brings it home. There one can see the actual remains of this gruesome period in history.

There was one thing I was curious about. What did the German population know about the fate of the Jews?

After the war ended in 1945, German citizens claimed they did not know the detail of the camp atrocities and at first, this was generally accepted by historians.

However, Robert Gellately, in his book, "Backing Hitler", challenged that claim. He analysed German newspaper and magazine archives since 1933, the year Hitler became chancellor.

The Nazi propaganda was also very effective. They pushed the line that the Jews were the cause of World War One and that there was a worldwide conspiracy. If the people are told a lie enough times, they'll eventually take it as fact.

So whilst the general population were aware that the Jewish Problem was being dealt with, the actual murderous atrocities were kept a secret.

The killing factories, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka amongst others, were located in remote forests. The Nazis wanted their names erased from history so once the killing was completed, they were to be destroyed and left to nature.

Could it happen again?

In a way what happened in Germany was the perfect storm. A combination of different events that resulted in the mass murder. Some of those individual events are happening today. Donald Trump bangs his nationalistic drum, demonising Muslims, amongst others.

In the UK, the Labour Party is embroiled in anti-Semitism. 

The Jewish MP Luciana Berger's decision to quit the Labour Party over anti-Semitism led to Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson to say she had been "bullied out of her own party by racist thugs". The Derby North MP, Chris Williamson was suspended from the party in February 2019 after suggesting that the party had been too apologetic on anti-Semitism whilst the former Labour MP, Joan Ryan, was threatened with rape and told she should be "shoved right back in the ovens".

It is worrying that some people think it's acceptable to say or act in this way today.

Looking at Europe, there is rising anti-Semitism amongst far-right organisations and for the first time since 1945, some Jewish people are concerned for their future.

France has reported a 74% increase in the number of offences against Jews in 2018 and Germany said the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks had surged by more than 60%.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, denounced the trend as “unacceptable” whilst Petra Pau, an MP for Germany’s Die Linke party, said more and more people felt free to “deny the Holocaust and engage in anti-Semitic agitation”.

In Germany, home to Europe’s third largest Jewish community after France and Britain, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party has been widely accused of fomenting hate against refugees, Muslims and Jews.

The party’s co-leader, Alexander Gauland, described the Holocaust as a “small bird dropping in over 1,000 years of successful German history”, while another senior AfD politician, Björn Höcke, called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame”.

Hungary’s far-right Fidesz party, led by prime minister Viktor Orbán, has run vitriolic campaigns against migrants and demonised George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish financier.

Jean Veil, the son of the late French Holocaust survivor and politician, Simone Veil, told RTL radio that “at bottom, we knew the leprosy was still there”. He said this after swastikas were daubed on postboxes that had a portrait of his late mother.

The current system of international law places important constraints on the power of the state, but it has not stopped atrocity.

But mass killings and atrocities did not end in 1945. Around the world there have been terrible events. Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur come to mind.

People say we learn from history. I would like to think we have learned from what occurred during the Holocaust but the evidence of the rise in far right, anti-Semitic organisations suggests otherwise.

I have faith in humanity but I fear that without vigilance and firm action, other atrocities are likely to occur again.

 

 

 

 

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