Edited by Gerald Boerner

 

Commentary:

JerryPhotoThis day marks a rather somber event in the history of man — the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration in 1945. It shocked the world when the Soviet troops entered the camp and found the remnants of the prisoners barely alive. What’s more, they found stacks of dead bodies awaiting their fate in the crematoria. This represented a level of inhumanity unseen in the western world.

This camp was the first hard evidence of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution” against the Jewish population. This camp was not just a holding area for prisoners to be worked hard, but it was a place where those not able to work were directed to the gas chambers to be immediately put to death. At Auschwitz, other prisoners were marked for medical experimentation by the infamous Dr. Mengele. Special trains were designated to carry Jews from western Europe out of Germany to Polish camps.

There are some ironies in this event, however. Stories abound of the atrocities of Joseph Stalin against his own military leaders. We have also heard of the harsh treatment of German Prisoners of War captured during Operation Barbarossa and against Polish citizens early in World War II. Finally, it is well-known that the Red Army left a trail of rape and pillage as they advanced to Berlin along the Eastern Front. So the Soviets were not without their blemishes.

Dachau_death_march

But before the western Allies (British and American Forces) were not blameless either. All we need to do is look at the “carpet bombing” campaigns carried out against German cities. While the Americans tried to carry out precision bombing campaigns during daytime hours, the British nighttime raids dropped all pretense of such targeted raids. The ultimate aim of these bombing campaigns were to instill fear and destruction upon the German people. This was especially evident in the near total destruction of Dresden. Not so blameless, were we?

But even all combatants in the European theater were guilty of some abuse of human rights, nothing approached that found in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. The destruction of millions of Jews and other “undesirables” was almost beyond comprehension.

Bot let us proceed with our exploration of today’s topic…  GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4241 Words ]

   

Quotations Related to AUSCHWITZ:

    

“I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.”
— David Irving

“Auschwitz is a place in which tragedy cannot occur.”
— Edward Bond

“Humanity’s become a product and when humanity is a product, you get Auschwitz and you get Chair.”
— Edward Bond

“During the first 3 years at Auschwitz, 2 million people died; over the next 2 years – 3 million.”
— Witold Pilecki

“Fifty years after half a million gypsies were exterminated in the Second World War – thousands of them in Auschwitz – we’re again preparing the mass killing of this minority.”
— Antonio Tabucchi

“I know that elections must be limited only to those who understand that the Arabs are the deadly enemy of the Jewish state, who would bring on us a slow Auschwitz – not with gas, but with knives and hatchets.”
— Meir Kahane

“So they didn’t let anybody else off. I can’t live like this, I’m finished. Auschwitz was easy.”
— Witold Pilecki

“We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning.”
— George Steiner

 

Auschwitz Liberated, International Holocaust Remembrance Day

     

    
German_atrocities__Germany,_Poland_&_Czechoslovakia,_1945The International Holocaust Remembrance Day
, which occurs on January 27, is the first universal commemoration in memory of the victims of The Holocaust. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005 during the 42nd plenary session. On 24 January 2005, during a special session (Special website for the session), the United Nations General Assembly had previously marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust which resulted in the annihilation of 6 million European Jews and millions of others by the Nazi German regime.

January 27 is the date, in 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau (Poland) was liberated by Soviet troops.

Prior to the 60/7 resolution, there had been national days of commemoration such as the Der Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (The Day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism) in Germany de:Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, established in a proclamation issued by Federal President Roman Herzog on 3 January 1996. Since 2001, January the 27th has been Holocaust memorial day in the UK.
    

    

What Was the Holocaust?

The Holocaust, also known as The Shoah, was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored extermination by Nazi Germany. Two-thirds of the population of nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust were killed.

Some scholars maintain that the definition of the Holocaust should also include the Nazis’ systematic murder of millions of people in other groups, including Romani, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other political and religious opponents, which occurred whether they were of German or non-German ethnic origin. By this definition, the total number of Holocaust victims would be between 11 million and 17 million people.

Selection_Birkenau_ramp"Selection" on the Judenrampe,
Auschwitz, May/June 1944.
To be sent to the right meant slave
labor; to the left, the gas chambers.
    

The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages. Various legislation to remove the Jews from civil society, predominantly the Nuremberg Laws, was enacted in Nazi Germany years before the outbreak of World War II. Concentration camps were established in which inmates were used as slave labor until they died of exhaustion or disease. Where the Third Reich conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized units called Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews and political opponents in mass shootings. The Germans required Jews and Romani to be confined in overcrowded ghettos before being transported by freight train to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, the majority of them were systematically killed in gas chambers. Every arm of Nazi Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics that led to the genocides, turning the country into what one Holocaust scholar has called "a genocidal state". Opinions differ on how much the civilian population of Germany knew about the government conspiracy against the Jewish population. Most historians claim that the civilian population was not aware of the atrocities that were carried out, especially in the extermination camps located in German-occupied Europe. The historian Robert Gellately, however, claims that the government openly announced the conspiracy through the media, and that civilians were aware of every aspect of the conspiracy except for the use of gas chambers.

    

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It was the largest of the German concentration camps, consisting of Auschwitz I (the Stammlager or base camp); Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the Vernichtungslager or extermination camp); Auschwitz III-Monowitz, also known as Buna-Monowitz (a labor camp); and 45 satellite camps.

Auschwitz_entranceAuschwitz Entrance Sign
         

Auschwitz is the German name for Oświęcim, the town in and around which the camps were located; it was renamed by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation of Brzezinka (birch tree), refers to a small Polish village nearby that was mostly destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was designated by Heinrich Himmler, who was the Reichsführer and Germany’s Minister of the Interior, as the place of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe". From spring 1942 until the fall of 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. The camp’s first commandant, Rudolf Höss, testified after the war at the Nuremberg Trials that up to three million people had died there (2.5 million exterminated, and 500,000 from disease and starvation), a figure since revised to 1.1 million, around 90 percent of them Jews. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities. Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, lack of disease control, individual executions, and medical experiments.

On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, which by 1994 had seen 22 million visitors—700,000 annually—pass through the iron gates crowned with the infamous motto, Arbeit macht frei ("work makes you free").

    

Auschwitz: The Main Camps

The Auschwitz complex of camps encompassed a large industrial area rich in natural resources. There were 48 camps in all. The three main camps were Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and a work camp called Auschwitz III-Monowitz, or the Buna. Auschwitz I served as the administrative center, and was the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly ethnic Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. Auschwitz II was an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager, the site of the deaths of at least 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, and some 19,000 Roma (Gypsies). Auschwitz III-Monowitz served as a labor camp for the Buna-Werke factory of the IG Farben concern. The SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps for the Third Reich. The SS-TV was an independent unit within the SS with its own ranks and command structure. Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss was overall commandant of the Auschwitz complex from May 1940–November 1943; Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel from November 1943–May 1944; and Sturmbannführer Richard Baer from May 1944–January 1945.

    
Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I was the original camp, serving as the administrative center for the whole complex. The site for the camp (16 one-story buildings) had earlier served as Polish army artillery barracks. It was first suggested as a site for a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-Oberfuhrer Arpad Wigand, an aide to Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. Bach-Zelewski had been searching for a site to house prisoners in the Silesia region as the local prisons were filled to capacity. Richard Glucks, head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, sent former Sachsenhausen concentration camp commandant, Walter Eisfeld, to inspect the site. Glucks informed SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler that a camp would be built on the site on 21 February 1940. Rudolf Höss would oversee the development of the camp and serve as the first commandant, SS-Obersturmführer Josef Kramer was appointed Höss’s deputy.

Auschwitz_I_EntranceAuschwitz I entrance
    

Local residents were evicted, including 1,200 people who lived in shacks around the barracks, creating an empty area of 40 km2, which the Germans called the "interest area of the camp". 300 Jewish residents of Oświęcim were brought in to lay foundations. From 1940 to 1941 17 000 Polish and Jewish residents from the western districts of Oświęcim town, from places adjacent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp was expelled. Germans ordered also expulsions from the villages of Broszkowice, Babice, Brzezinka, Rajsko, Pławy, Harmęże, Bór, and Budy. The expulsion of Polish civilians was a step towards establishing the Camp Interest Zone, which was set up to isolate the camp from the outside world and to carry out business activity to meet the needs of the SS. German and Volksdeutsche settlers moved into some buildings whose Jewish population had been deported to the ghetto.

The first prisoners (30 German criminal prisoners from the Sachsenhausen camp) arrived in May 1940, intended to act as functionaries within the prison system. The first transport of 728 Polish prisoners which included 20 Jews arrived on 14 June 1940 from the prison in Tarnow, Poland. They were interned in the former building of the Polish Tobacco Monopoly adjacent to the site, until the camp was ready. The inmate population grew quickly, as the camp absorbed Poland’s intelligentsia and dissidents, including the Polish underground resistance. By March 1941, 10,900 were imprisoned there, most of them Poles.

The SS selected some prisoners, often German criminals, as specially privileged supervisors of the other inmates (so-called kapos). Although involved in numerous atrocities, only two Kapos were ever prosecuted for their individual behavior; many were deemed to have had little choice but to act as they did. The various classes of prisoners were distinguishable by special marks on their clothes; Jews and Soviet prisoners of war were generally treated the worst. All inmates had to work in the associated arms factories, except on Sundays, which were reserved for cleaning and showering. The harsh work requirements, combined with poor nutrition and hygiene, led to high death rates among the prisoners.

Block 11 of Auschwitz was the "prison within the prison", where violators of the numerous rules were punished. Some prisoners were made to spend the nights in "standing cells". These cells were about 1.5 m2 (16 sq ft), and four men would be placed in them; they could do nothing but stand, and were forced during the day to work with the other prisoners. In the basement were located the "starvation cells"; prisoners incarcerated here were given neither food nor water until they were dead.

In the basement were the "dark cells"; these cells had only a very tiny window, and a solid door. Prisoners placed in these cells would gradually suffocate as they used up all of the oxygen in the cell; sometimes the SS would light a candle in the cell to use up the oxygen more quickly. Many were subjected to hanging with their hands behind their backs, thus dislocating their shoulder joints for hours, even days.

On September 3, 1941, deputy camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritzsch experimented on 600 Russian POWs and 250 Polish inmates by gathering them in the basement of Block 11 and gassing them with Zyklon B, a highly lethal cyanide-based pesticide. This paved the way for the use of Zyklon B as an instrument for extermination at Auschwitz, and a gas chamber and crematorium were constructed by converting a bunker. This gas chamber operated from 1941 to 1942, during which time some 60,000 people were killed therein; it was then converted into an air-raid shelter for the use of the SS. This gas chamber still exists, together with the associated crematorium, which was reconstructed after the war using the original components, which remained on-site.

    
Auschwitz II-Birkenau

Construction on Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the extermination camp, began in October 1941 to ease congestion at the main camp. It was larger than Auschwitz I, and more people passed through its gates than through Auschwitz I. It was designed to hold several categories of prisoners, and to function as an extermination camp in the context of Heinrich Himmler’s preparations for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, the extermination of the Jews. The first gas chamber at Birkenau was "The Little Red House," a brick cottage converted into a gassing facility by tearing out the inside and bricking up the walls. It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, "The Little White House," was similarly converted some weeks later.

Auschwitz-birkenau-main_trackAuschwitz II-Birkenau
    

The Nazis had committed themselves to the final solution no later than January 1942, the date of the Wannsee Conference. In his Nuremberg testimony on April 15, 1946, Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, testified that Heinrich Himmler personally ordered him to prepare Auschwitz for that purpose:

    
In the summer of 1941 I was summoned to Berlin to Reichsführer-SS Himmler to receive personal orders. He told me something to the effect—I do not remember the exact words—that the Fuehrer had given the order for a final solution of the Jewish question. We, the SS, must carry out that order. If it is not carried out now then the Jews will later on destroy the German people. He had chosen Auschwitz on account of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation.
   

British historian Laurence Rees writes, that Höss may have misremembered the year Himmler said this. Himmler did indeed visit Höss in the summer of 1941, but there is no evidence that the final solution had been planned at this stage. Rees writes that the meeting predates the killings of Jewish men by the Einsatzgruppen in the East and the expansion of the killings in July 1941. It also predates the Wannsee Conference. Rees speculates that the conversation with Himmler was most likely in the summer of 1942. The first gassings, using an industrial gas derived from prussic acid and known by the brand name Zyklon-B, were carried out at Auschwitz in September 1941.

In early 1943, the Nazis decided to increase greatly the gassing capacity of Birkenau. Crematorium II, originally designed as a mortuary, with morgues in the basement and ground-level furnaces, was converted into a killing factory by placing a gas-tight door on the morgues and adding vents for Zyklon B and ventilation equipment to remove the gas. It went into operation in March. Crematorium III was built using the same design. Crematoria IV and V, designed from the start as gassing centers, were also constructed that spring. By June 1943 all four crematoria were operational. Most of the victims were killed during the period afterwards.

The camp was staffed partly by prisoners, some of whom were selected to be kapos (orderlies, most of whom were convicts) and sonderkommandos (workers at the crematoria). The kapos were responsible for keeping order in the barrack huts; the sonderkommandos prepared new arrivals for gassing (ordering them to remove their clothing and surrender their personal possessions) and transferred corpses from the gas chambers to the furnaces, having first pulled out any gold that the victims might have had in their teeth. Members of these groups were killed periodically. The kapos and sonderkommandos were supervised by members of the SS; altogether 6,000 SS members worked at Auschwitz.

Command of the women’s camp, which was separated from the men’s area by the incoming railway line, was held in turn by Johanna Langefeld, Maria Mandel, and Elisabeth Volkenrath.

    
Auschwitz III

The largest of the Auschwitz work camps was Auschwitz III-Monowitz, named after the Polish village of Monowice, and regarded from the fall of 1943 onwards as an industrial camp. Starting operations in May 1942, it was associated with the synthetic rubber and liquid fuel plant Buna-Werke owned by IG Farben. 11,000 slave laborers worked at Monowitz. Seven thousand inmates worked at various chemical plants. 8,000 worked in mines. Approximately 40,000 prisoners worked in slave labor camps at Auschwitz or nearby, under appalling conditions. In regular intervals, doctors from Auschwitz II would visit the work camps and select the weak and sick for the gas chambers of Birkenau.

    

Death Toll

The exact number of victims at Auschwitz is impossible to fix with certainty. Since the Nazis destroyed a number of records, immediate efforts to count the dead depended on the testimony of witnesses and the defendants on trial at Nuremberg. While under interrogation Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940 to 1943, said that Adolf Eichmann told him that two and a half million Jews had been killed in gas chambers and about half a million had died "naturally". Later he wrote "I regard two and a half million far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive possibilities".

Auschwitz-Birkenau,_alte_Frau_und_KinderChildren and an old woman on
the way to the death barracks
of
Auschwitz-Birkenau
    

Communist Polish and Soviet authorities maintained a figure "between 2.5 and 4 million", and the Auschwitz State Museum itself displayed a figure of 4 million killed, but "[f]ew (if any) historians ever believed the Museum’s four million figure". Raul Hilberg’s 1961 work The Destruction of the European Jews estimated the number killed at 1,000,000, and Gerald Reitlinger’s 1968 book The Final Solution described the Soviet figures as "ridiculous", and estimated the number killed at "800,000 to 900,000". A larger study started later by Franciszek Piper used timetables of train arrivals combined with deportation records to calculate 960,000 Jewish deaths and 140,000-150,000 ethnic Polish victims, along with 23,000 Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), a figure that has met with significant agreement from other scholars.

After the collapse of the Communist government in 1989, the plaque at Auschwitz State Museum was removed and the official death toll given as 1.1 million. Holocaust deniers have attempted to use this change as propaganda, in the words of the Nizkor Project:

    
Deniers often use the ‘Four Million Variant’ as a stepping stone to leap from an apparent contradiction to the idea that the Holocaust was a hoax, again perpetrated by a conspiracy. They hope to discredit historians by making them seem inconsistent. If they can’t keep their numbers straight, their reasoning goes, how can we say that their evidence for the Holocaust is credible? One must wonder which historians they speak of, as most have been remarkably consistent in their estimates of a million or so dead… Few (if any) historians ever believed the Museum’s four million figure, having arrived at their own estimates independently. The museum’s inflated figures were never part of the estimated five to six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, so there is no need to revise this figure.
    

    

Commemorations at the United Nations

In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Holocaust Remembrance Weeks were organized by The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme. This programme is part of the Outreach Division of the United Nations Department of Public Information and was established under General Assembly resolution 60/7.

    
In 2006

On 24 January 2006, the opening of the Holocaust Remembrance Week took place at United Nations Headquarters with the unveiling of an exhibit No Child’s Play – Remembrance and Beyond in the Visitors’ Lobby. This travelling exhibit, produced by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, opened a window into the world of children during the Shoah. It focused on toys, games, artwork, diaries and poems highlighting some of the personal stories of the children and providing a glimpse into their lives during the Holocaust. The exhibition told the story of survival — the struggle of these children to hold on to life.

    
In 2007

On 29 January 2007, the second annual observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust was held in the General Assembly Hall at United Nations Headquarters.

Shasta Tharp, former Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, introduced a program that began with a video message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Statements were then made by Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, president of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly, and Ambassador Dan Gillerman, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations. The keynote “Remembrance and Beyond” address was given by Madame Simone Veila Holocaust survivor, president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah and a member of the Constitutional Council of France.

    
In 2008

Throughout the week of 28 January 2008, the United Nations Department of Public Information organized a number of events around the world to remember the victims of the Holocaust and underscore the value of human life. This 2008 observance focused on the need to ensure the protection of human rights for all. It coincided with the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    

Observance by the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

    
International Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD), an annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era. Every member nation of the U.N. has an obligation to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and develop educational programs as part of an international resolve to help prevent future acts of genocide. The U.N. resolution that created IHRD rejects denial of the Holocaust, and condemns discrimination and violence based on religion or ethnicity.

To commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2011, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will host a candle-lighting ceremony attended by the Washington, D.C. diplomatic community, Holocaust survivors, and the general public. The ceremony will take place in the Museum’s Hall of Remembrance.

Read or watch President Barack Obama’s remarks commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2010, which acknowledges the work of Sara Bloomfield and the Museum in preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

In addition, each April or May the United States officially commemorates the Holocaust during the national Days of Remembrance. The Museum is mandated by the U.S. Congress to lead the nation in commemorating this day.
    

   

   

Please take time to further explore more about INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST
REMEMBRANCE DAY, AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP, THE HOLOCAUST,
and the WANNSEE CONFERENCE & "FINAL SOLUTION"
by accessing the
Wikipedia articles referenced below…

    

References

         

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: International Holocaust Remembrance Day…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Holocaust_Remembrance_Day

Wikipedia: Auschwitz Concentration Camp…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_concentration_camp

Wikipedia: The Holocaust…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust

US Holocaust Museum: International Holocaust Remembrance Day
http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/ihrd/comment_post.php

Brainy Quote: AUSCHWITZ Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/auschwitz.html

    

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Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Cole Thompson, B/W Photographer & Ghost Images…
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=6976