Monday, August 7, 2017

On Visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz II - Birkenau

The sign "arbeit macht frei " sign out front and the trains that brought people  to the camps. 

Its not a trip anyone ever looks forward to.  Its not something one wants to do.  Its more something one has to do, to bear witness to the greatest horror.  There are no new words, nothing else to say about the banality of evil.  I’ve read Life in Auschwitz, Ladies and Gentleman This Way for the Gas, Fatelessness, etc. But old questions remain, particularly how could they have let it happen.  We have to study it to try to understand the ways racism works, the ways hate spreads and dehumanizes.  Over a million people, probably more were gassed, here.  The numbers are skewed.  The head of the camp is known to have disputed the claim that he killed 3.5 million people.  It was something closer to 2.5 he confessed, 2,000 killed an hour.

It was pouring with rain when we arrived.  So we all stood outside, in a long cue for an hour or so before walking past the old “Arbeit Macht Frei” signs.

“You can’t complain,” Caroline reminded me.  No you can’t complain here.
With rain pouring above and mud on our feet, we walked past the old sign, through cell block after cell block where people were starved, raped, experimented on, send to work in slave labor for German corporations, or to perish.

There was the field where prisoners were flogged to death, the tour guide explained.
And there were the rooms where thousands a day were send to cut their hair, strip, walk to the gas chambers, where a thousand people could be killed with one canister of  zyklon b, a cynanide-based pesticide gas, before their bodies had to be cleared, out, their gold teeth removed, and cremated again and again.

There were the trains where the prisoners arrived Auschwitz II-BirkenauIt was 1944 when some prisoners brought their own bombs into the chambers in Auschwitz II-Birkenau and set them off.

A putrid spell of mud and rot still lingers in some of the stables where people were kept. 

The kids walked with us, quietly holding our hands. Its never easy telling your kids about horror.  
The Russians liberated the camps in 1945, in horror about what they saw.
Never again, we are reminded.  But its more like we never learn. 

The genocides continue:
Khmer rouge in 1970s Cambodia, when over a million died in the killing fields, Rwanda in 1994 when some 800 people were killed in some three months, and others, including Bangladesh, 1971, East Timor, 1975-99, Guatemala, 1981-84,   Bosnia, 1992-95, and Darfur, Sudan, 2004…

Torture continues. 

The rhetoric continues, make America great again, make Germany great again.  It all sounds the same to me.   When I hear anyone say its going to be ok if we deal with them, I think of 1933.  It just was not that long ago.

“I’m so disappointed in man,” I said to Caroline on the way out.

What did I learn seeing the camps – was that it was a systematic process.  Killing people takes time, money, management, and resources. Thousands and thousands a day.  That was a process involving huge numbers of managers. How could they?  It’s an old question. But the answers are not forthcoming.

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