Holocaust Memorial Day: Auschwitz-Birkenau 70 Years After Liberation

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Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Holocaust. It was established by Germans in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.

At its height, Auschwitz had received a staggering amount of victims (the numbers say at or just under a half million) with 10% being deemed fit for work and the rest were murdered at a rate of over 10,000 per day.

The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing “local” prisons. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the death camps.

More than one million people were killed at Auschwitz in Poland during World War Two. The majority were Jews and the former extermination camp is the world’s biggest Jewish cemetery.

The site was also the death place for many people who did not fit into the Nazis’ view of their world. Poles, lesbians, homosexuals and the disabled were amongst those also killed here.

Many of the concentration camps set up by the Nazis in World War Two were razed to the ground, but Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated before it was completely destroyed. Now it’s a museum.

Survivors laid wreaths and light candles at the so-called Death Wall at Block 11 on January 27th to mark 70 years since the camp’s liberation, and remember those who never left.

I could post a million of my historical photos in my massive collection from WWII, Nazi camps, the Holocaust and bring you so many stories of the most horrific of human events.

I could tell you family stories from my great aunt and uncle who spent time at Bergen-Belsen and show you all of the photos I’ve personally taken of EVERY Nazi camp in Europe.  But if you read social network and other blogs as well and watch the news and TV documentaries, you’ll see all that you will need to get an idea of the truest cut to human kind.  Maybe not a full ‘in-your-face’ kind of understanding, but definitely an idea. The only way those of us who never experienced it would be to go there and see, touch, personally.

So I will go about this a little differently.

I don’t deal in “what ifs” so let me phrase this in a different manner….

Thinking back historically (& academically, retrospectivly), if the Brit soldier had decided to kill an already wounded Hitler in WWI (as they say “finish him off”), how different the world would have been.

– There may have been no Nazi Third Reich (although granted, someone with more military experience & know-how might have been Furher, but maybe not)

– There may not have been a Holocaust. Anti-Jewish sentiment did exist, but not on the level influenced by Mein Kampf, Hitler’s incessant rambling and Goebbels propaganda machine . Some early factions of Nazism were disturbed by growing anti-semitism within the party. The Nazi party as we know it needed a scapegoat, a rallying cry and Jews fit the bill, along with Catholics, gays, the peaceful White Rose movement – practically anyone and everyone could be targeted. Jews were the largest group of them all and were considered the biggest threat and the most horribly stereotyped of any.

– USA & Russia would not have exited WWII as a dominant power, the Cold War would have not existed. More than likely, Britain and France would have remained the dominant power in Europe in the 20th century.

– Anne Frank would have developed as a writer, maybe even a Hollywood starlet, but would her writings mean as much to us now? She was smart, lively and imaginative, so she would have probably enthralled us with other things to write about.

I could go on and on – no Pearl Harbor, no 11 to 12 million murders in camps, no approximately 50 killed in WWII, etc. etc. ad nauseam. But the fact remains, all of this did happen, every bit, and these are the cards we are dealt and have to play, this is life as it is.

So we remember, hopefully learn, discuss, and never forget.

Side note: 

Robert H. Jackson was United States Attorney General from 1940 to 1941 and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1941 to 1954. He was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.

In his Opening Address to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on November 10, 1945, he said,

“The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”

As I’ve painfully mentioned without hesitation in social media:

With almost every Nazi atrocity came justice….I’ve been to every concentration camp in Europe & photographed them all. The scale at which the Nazis developed mass murder on such an industrial level is terribly sad, utterly shameful and mind-boggling horrific.

I would like to think art and personal belongings were eventually returned to families, and in many cases every effort was made to do that. I would like to think that the many victims are now at peace and for the most part their murders were avenged. I think to some extent, we are assured of the latter than the former; but even with the number of Nazis who faced justice and were punished, that many more slipped away. I would like to think they as will we all, be judged and answer for our transgressions. These war crimes above and beyond any are the truest cut of all to humanity.

‪#‎Auschwitz70‬ ‪#‎AuschwitzBirkenau‬ ‪#‎auschwitzherdenking‬ ‪#‎Auschwitzundich‬
‪#‎NeverAgain‬ ‪#‎NeverForget‬

Crash

Germany: Auschwitz SS Guard Charged with Accessory to 300,000 Murders

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Oskar Groening, who was a guard at Auschwitz, has been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. Photo: Crash MacDuff

Prosecutors say Oskar Groening, now 93, dealt with belongings and counted money of Hungarian Jews sent to their deaths.

Prosecutors in Germany have charged a 93-year-old man with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an SS guard at the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp.

Groening is accused of helping operate the death camp in occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 almost immediately gassed to death.

In his job dealing with the belongings stolen from camp victims, prosecutors said among other things he was charged with helping collect and tally money that was found.

“He helped the Nazi regime benefit economically, and supported the systematic killings,” state prosecutors in the city of Hannover said in a statement.

Groening’s attorney, Hans Holtermann, declined to comment on the charges.

Groening has openly talked about his time as a guard and said while he witnessed horrific atrocities, he didn’t commit any crimes himself.

In 2005 he told Der Spiegel magazine he recalled one incident on “ramp duty” when he heard a baby crying. “I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs,” he said. “He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”

Groening, who lives in the Hannover area, is one of about 30 former Auschwitz guards who federal investigators last year said state prosecutors should pursue under a new precedent in German law.

Groening is the fourth case investigated by Hannover: two have been shelved because the suspects have been deemed unfit for trial and one was closed when the suspect died.

Thomas Walther, who represents 20 Auschwitz victims and their families as co-plaintiffs in the case against Groening as allowed under German law, said it was their last chance “to participate in bringing justice to one of the SS men who had a part in the murder of their closest relatives”.

“Many of the co-plaintiffs are among the last survivors of Auschwitz,” he told the Associated Press.

Photo: Crash MacDuff

Photo: Crash MacDuff

The case against Oskar Gröning highlights Germany judiciary’s Holocaust problem. With only 50 out of 6,500 SS guards at Auschwitz convicted, critics say German law has been too slow to seek justice.

He was once called “the accountant of Auschwitz,” but he is also one of the few former Nazi death camp guards to speak out against Holocaust deniers. Now, at the age of 93, he is to face trial in Germany, and his case has highlighted what some historians see as the failure of the German judiciary to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice.

From 1942 to 1944, Oskar Gröning counted money taken from the luggage of murdered Jews and sent it back to SS headquarters in Berlin. He also stood guard as the transports of human beings entered the camp.

That much has long been known, not least because he himself described his experiences to the media, but it has taken a new investigation, carried out by Germany’s central office for the investigation of Nazi crimes in Ludwigsburg, for charges to be brought against him. In February this year, the office searched the homes of several former members of the SS across Germany. Of these, Gröning is the only one to have been pronounced fit enough to stand trial.

For what state prosecutors called “legal and evidence reasons”, Gröning’s formal charges relate only to two months of his time at the camp – 16 May to 11 July 1944, the time of the so-called Hungary Operation, when “around 425,000 people from Hungary arrived at the camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau”, of whom “at least 300,000 found their deaths in the gas chambers”. Gröning has therefore been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Gröning caught public attention in 2005 when he appeared in the BBC documentary Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’, in which he described how being confronted by Holocaust deniers had led to him to speak out. “I see it as my task now, at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced, and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened,” he said. “I saw the crematoria, I saw the burning pits.”

But Gröning also denied his culpability, telling Der Spiegel magazine in the same year: “Accomplice would almost be too much for me. I would describe my role as a small cog in the gears. If you can describe that as guilt, then I am guilty, but not voluntarily. Legally speaking, I am innocent.”

Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. Photo courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center. Used by permission.

Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. Photo courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center. Used by permission.

State prosecutors disagree – but only now. Despite high-profile trials in Nuremberg just after the war, and Frankfurt in 1964, the German judiciary has been notoriously sluggish about punishing those directly involved in the Holocaust. A previous case against Gröning himself was dropped for lack of evidence by Frankfurt prosecutors in 1985. The historian Andreas Eichmüller once calculated that of the 6,500 SS members who worked at Auschwitz and survived the war, only 49 had ever been convicted.

Jörg Friedrich, a historian and author of Acquittal for Nazi Justice: The Sentencing of National Socialist Judges since 1948, challenges the view that the German judiciary dragged its heels. “There were hundreds of thousands of investigations, kilometres of investigation documents,” he told the Guardian. “I don’t know of any state that did the same … A compromise had to be drawn between assimilation and prosecution, and I think Germany was a success in both cases.” The legal difficulty is in defining individual guilt; attempts to convict other SS members have failed in the past because they could not be linked to specific murders. Ingo Müller, law professor and author of Terrible Lawyers: the Past Our Judiciary Has Not Overcome, thinks this is a historical failure. “Just participating in the Holocaust doesn’t count.”

On the Web: Official site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau (German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp) Memorial and State Museum.

Crash

#MilitaryMonday: Real Reasons Why Germany Doesn’t Want China Anywhere Near Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to students during the welcoming ceremony by German President Joachim Gauck at Bellevue palace in Berlin on March 28. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to students during the welcoming ceremony by German President Joachim Gauck at Bellevue palace in Berlin on March 28. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

China’s official visit to Germany brings two world’s together but is a powder-keg of old wounds and a trunk-load of misunderstandings

Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Germany for two days, meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials. It’s the third leg of Xi’s European Union trip, and an important one – as Deutsche Welle notes, Germany is China’s most important trade partner in Europe.

There is, however, once place that Xi wasn’t wanted during his time in Germany: Berlin’s famous Holocaust memorial. Der Spiegel reported this month that German authorities had refused a request from Xi’s entourage for an official visit to the site. While the Chinese president may visit the site on his own, it will not be a part of the official itinerary and Merkel will not accompany him.

Visits to the Holocaust memorial, officially known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), are a key part of a trip to Berlin for many visitors. Why wouldn’t Xi be granted an official visit?

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

The reason has little to do with the Holocaust itself. Instead, according to Der Spiegel, German officials fear that they would get involved in China’s spat with Japan. China has frequently tried to contrast Japan’s handling of its World War II legacy with Germany’s behavior. An op-ed in Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily expanded upon this theory today, arguing that the “government of China has been trying to impress the world with the sharp contrast between post World War II Japan and Germany in facing their parallel burdens of history.” One source told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that Germany did not want a “third country” to use the monument for “diplomatic purposes.”

Japan’s attitude to World War II has long been a controversial issue for China: Whereas Merkel might visit Berlin’s Holocaust memorial, Japanese leaders have been visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo for years. Yasukuni is dedicated to Japan’s war dead but includes 14 war criminals and is seen by critics as a monument to Japan’s imperial excesses.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the shrine in December despite protests from both China and South Korea. In China, anger over the visits to the shrine even led to a restaurant owner briefly becoming an online celebrity after putting a sign reading “Yasukuni Shrine” above his establishment’s toilets. Other issues, such as Abe’s challenging of Japan’s wartime use of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian sex slaves, have also played into the perception of Japan as a wartime aggressor that refuses to apologize.

Japan and China’s lack of reconciliation after World War II has long been a problem, but in recent years its become a major bone of contention due to their territorial dispute over a small group of islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China. The uninhabited islands are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, and have been at the center of a number of tense military moments recently. Both Xi and Abe have taken a hard line on the issue, and there are serious concerns that it could devolve into war.

Of course, Xi’s visit to Germany, and his proposed visit to the Holocaust memorial, come at a time when much of the world’s focus is on territorial disputes and geographical gray areas. Abe recently compared Russia’s annexation of Crimea with China’s intentions for the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, drawing an angry rebuke from China.

Germany doesn’t want to get involved in this, which seems quite sensible. History can be benign in one situation yet explosive in another.

The Japanese inhabit the islands of Japan and also the permanent state of denial. The Chinese should just stop the saber-rattling, forget about Japan’s WWII atrocities, and move into the 21st century. One would hope the Boys in Beijing and Tokyo are bright enough to realize the incalculable costs and unpredictable consequences of yet another military conflict. One would hope.

Let’s be very clear about the differences between Merkel and Abe. Merkel visited the site for VICTIMS of Nazi war criminals, NOT a site for the latter, whereas Abe visited a site for the PERPETRATORS of Japan’s war crimes. Also, to say that only 14 of the Imperial Japanese soldiers honored at the Yasukuni Shrine are war criminals is like saying that only few of the Nazi soldiers can be considered as war criminals, also, while the remaining soldiers were just heroes defending Germany. That is an utter nonsense! As soldiers who carried out the aggressions and atrocities against their neighboring countries on behalf of their aggressor countries, all Nazi and Imperial Japanese soldiers are technically war criminals. Imagine the outrage and uproar by their European neighbors, as well as most Germans themselves, if Germany had a memorial or a shrine dedicated to its Nazi soldiers similar to the Yasukuni Shrine. Of course, that is why Germany has no such site dedicated to, much less honoring, the Nazi soldiers, except for their individual private cemeteries by their families. Really, can the West or the whole world, for that matter, imagine Angela Merkel paying an annual tribute to the dead Nazi soldiers? If she did, Germany, too, would find itself be shunned and detested by its neighbors, as Japan is now.

Let’s also be clear that the”West” isn’t papering over the atrocities committed by the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s. They are a matter of public record everywhere. The German “crimes against humanity” of the mid-20th Century were a bigger issue than those of the Soviets and Japanese solely because they were the ones who started the Second World War and because they were always a bigger threat to world peace and civilization.  And, of course, because Germany committed most of its atrocities in the “West”, where people took them a lot more personally.

The Putin government in Russia is now back in the business of papering over Soviet atrocities, but that is going to be another story.

Crash

 

Never Forget. Never Again

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This photo was taken by an SS photographer. It is part of an album discovered after liberation by a female prisoner. Most people create family albums containing photos of their children, wives, husbands, mementos of places visited. Evidently this SS photographer was proud of the work he and his comrades were doing. The people in the photo had only just been brought from the trains where they had been crammed in cattle cars with no food, water or sanitation. Look closely at them, these were the people the Nazis considered dangerous. Not long after this photo was taken they were gassed, and their bodies burned.

On The Web: www.remember.org

Crash

HAUNTING SMILE OF GIRL FACING THE HOLOCAUST

How Hitler’s personal photographer captured for history the plight of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland

  • Hugo Jaeger’s photographs normally celebrate the glory and triumphalism of the Third Reich
  • But in this set he depicts the tragic circumstances of Jews while allowing them to retain their humanity and dignity
  • Taken in the Polish town of Kutno in 1939 and 1940 they have been released to mark the official establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto

She has such natural beauty, she could pass for a movie star.

She smiles, her demeanour relaxed. In normal times, this young woman would surely have enjoyed a bright and happy future, perhaps with a husband, children, grandchildren.

But soon after this photograph was taken, she would face almost certain death. The haunting image is one of a series depicting Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland before they were rounded up to be sent to the gas chambers.

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Despite the awfulness of her predicament, this Jewish woman manages to smile brightly for the camera as she poses for Jaeger.

Never again. Ever.

Crash