Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Anniversary: Liberation of Auschwitz

Today is the 64th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz. Auschwitz-Birkenau is located less than 50 miles west of Krakow, Poland. It is estimated that over one million prisoners (mostly Jews) perished at the concentration camp from 1940-1945 at the hands of Nazi barbarism.

Rudolf Franz Hoess was the commandant of Auschwitz. He lived and dined happily with his family on camp grounds as inmates were incinerated in the crematoria (sometimes while still alive) or died of starvation and disease just outside his doors. Here is an excerpt from Hoess's Nuremberg Trial affidavit:

"Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated." (Treblinka was an extermination camp closer to Warsaw)

In November, a German newspaper published Auschwitz architectural plans that had never been seen by the public. The papers reveal much about the design of Auschwitz including detailed plans for its front gate "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Will Set You Free), the prisoner barracks, and the gas chambers. One map is even signed by Heinrich Himmler, the past leader of the SS.

On a personal note, I have twice visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau locale. Walking the site of mass extermination overwhelmed me, not only as a Jew but as a relative of the victims of one of humanity's darkest moments. It was during my first visit in 1997 that I dropped to my knees and wept before a display in one of the barracks. Just behind the glass was a suitcase labeled with my last name.