(1) Auschwitz, 60 years on: “My father was no longer there”

January 27, 2005


[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch is divided into three emails for space reasons. It contains a selection of editorials and comment pieces to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz from today's newspapers in the US, Australia, Britain, South Africa and Israel.

Part of the reason for attaching so many articles in this dispatch – from 17 different publications – is to demonstrate how comprehensive the coverage has been.

With a few notable exceptions (which I won't discuss here) the coverage today in the Western media marks a break with the past. There is more detailed and prominent coverage than during past anniversaries associated with the Holocaust. Perhaps this is because of fears resulting from the worldwide increase in anti-Semitism in recent years. Or it might also result from concern at the high level of ignorance being displayed about the Holocaust, particularly in Europe, the continent where the crime took place.



Few recipients of this list will have time to read all these articles, and I do not have time to summarize them.

But I particularly recommend reading the pieces:

* (1) by Jeff Jacoby, in The Boston Globe, about his father, an Auschwitz survivor;

* (2) by Julie Szego, a staff writer at The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, whose formerly Jewish father was deported to Auschwitz despite his family having converted to Roman Catholicism;

* (3) "Witnesses for the witnesses" by Deborah Lipstadt, in The International Herald Tribune (which is attached to the second of these emails).

Several of these 17 articles were selected because they were written by Auschwitz survivors or their children.

I believe the total given ("200,000 Moslem dead" in Bosnia) in the editorial titled "We say today: Never again" in The Daily Star (South Africa) is incorrect, and this figure includes Serbs and Croats too.

-- Tom Gross



1. "A factory for death," (By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, January 27, 2005)
2. "Well-rounded history lessons can't spare ugly truths" (Chicago Sun Times, commentary, January 26, 2005)
3. "We say today: Never again" (Editorial, Daily Star of South Africa, January 27, 2005)
4. "Holocaust survivors can remember without hating" (By Jonathan Sacks, Daily Telegraph, January 27, 2005)
5. "Auschwitz's long shadow," (By Julie Szego, The Age, Australia, January 27, 2005)
6. Editorial: "Lessons from the Holocaust" (The Australian, January 27, 2005)



7. "Witnesses for the witnesses" (By Deborah E. Lipstadt, International Herald Tribune, January 27, 2005)
8. "Dancing on the volcano" (By Dominique Moïsi, International Herald Tribune, January 27, 2005)
9. "The legacy of Auschwitz" (By Samuel Pisar, Ha'aretz, Israel, January 27, 2005)
10. "Six million reasons why the world must never forget" (By Laurence Rees, Scotsman, January 27, 2005)
11. "Holocaust Memorial Day misused" (By Mark Levene, Seattle Post Intelligencer, January 26, 2005)



12. "Evil Too Great to Grasp -- or Remember" (By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, January 27, 2005)
13. "The Auschwitz Imperative" (Editorial, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2005)
14. "The liberation of the camp of the damned" (By Tom Luke, Sydney Morning Herald, January 27, 2005)
15. "Could Britain have done more to stop the horrors of Auschwitz?" (By Martin Gilbert, Times, Jan. 27, 2005)
16. "Auschwitz: judgment day for humanity" (By Ron Ferguson, Glasgow Herald, January 27 2005)
17. "Always, Darkness Visible" (By Aharon Appelfeld, New York Times, January 27, 2005)



A factory for death
By Jeff Jacoby
Boston Globe
January 27, 2005


By the time the Soviet Army reached Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945 -- 60 years ago today -- my father was no longer there. Ten days earlier, the Nazis had evacuated about 67,000 of the death camp's inmates, dispatching them on brutal forced marches to the west. My father, then 19, was in a group sent into Austria. He ended up at the concentration camp in Ebensee, near Mauthausen. Liberation there didn't come until May 9, with the arrival of US soldiers from the 80th Infantry Division.

My father had entered Auschwitz the previous spring, together with his parents, his two brothers, and two of his three sisters. They, too, were gone by the time the camp was liberated. Unlike my father, they didn't leave on foot. They ''left" through the chimney. For the overwhelming majority of the more than 1.1 million Jews who were sent to Auschwitz, there was no other way out.

Jews were not the only victims. Nearly 75,000 Poles, more than 20,000 Gypsies, 15,000 Soviets, and 10,000 members of other nationalities were murdered at Auschwitz as well. The Nazis first used the camp, in fact, as a prison for Polish dissidents, and Birkenau, the huge 1941 addition that became the main Auschwitz killing center, was originally designed to hold Soviet POWs.

But beginning in the spring of 1942, Auschwitz became first and foremost a slaughterhouse for Jews. From every corner of Europe, Jews were sent there -- from France in the west to Ukraine in the east, from as far north as Norway and as far south as Greece. Many, like my father and two of his siblings, were forced into slave labor in the expectation that the ghastly conditions and starvation rations would kill them soon enough. But most of the Jews entering Auschwitz -- like my father's parents and his youngest brother and sister -- were murdered as soon as they arrived.

Auschwitz was a vast factory of death, the site of the greatest mass murder in recorded history. Even now, two generations later, it is almost impossible to grasp the scale on which the Nazis committed homicide there. It is suggested by a detail: From 1942 to 1944, the train platform in Birkenau was the busiest railway station in Europe. It held that distinction despite the fact that, unlike every other train station in the world, it saw only arrivals. No passengers ever left.

But Auschwitz was not only a place of murder. It was also a place of theft. Jews were robbed of everything they owned -- the luggage they came with, the clothes on their backs, the hair on their heads, even the gold in their teeth. The stolen goods were stored in 35 warehouses, where they were sorted and packed for shipment to Germany. Before fleeing in January 1945, the Nazis burned 29 of the warehouses, but in the six that remained, the Soviets found 348,820 men's suits, 836,255 dresses, and 43,525 pairs of shoes. There were seven trainloads of bedding, waiting to be shipped. And 7.7 tons of human hair. And that was merely what remained at the very end.

The very worst thing about Auschwitz was -- what? The staggering death toll? The gas chambers disguised as showers, in which thousands of naked Jews went daily to agonizing deaths? The endless cruelty and torture? The diseases that ravaged those the Nazis didn't kill first?

Was it the inhuman medical experiments carried out by doctors like Josef Mengele, such as the deliberate destruction of healthy organs or the sadistic abuse of twins and dwarfs? Was it the willing exploitation of Jewish slave labor by German corporations? The tens of thousands of murdered children and babies?

No. The very worst thing about Auschwitz is that, for all its evil immensity, it was only a fraction of the total. Even if it had never been built, the Holocaust would still have been a crime without parallel in human history. It would still have been something so monstrous that a new word -- genocide -- would have had to be coined to encompass it. Never before and never since has a government made the murder of an entire people its central aim. And never before or since has a government turned human slaughter into an international industry, complete with facilities for transportation, selection, murder, incineration. And none of it as a means to an end, but as an end in itself: The reason for wiping out the Jews was so that the Jews would be wiped out.

In the end, 6 million of them were killed. But only one-sixth died at Auschwitz.



Well-rounded history lessons can't spare ugly truths
Chicago Sun Times
January 26, 2005


Even as the world marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the special significance of the Holocaust is in danger of fading. More and more people don't know about the death camp atrocities -- according to a recent BBC poll, 45 percent of British adults never heard of Auschwitz -- while others believe equal attention must be paid to other instances of genocide in our lifetime.

Most people would agree on the importance of educating our young people on the Nazis' systematic attempt to exterminate the Jews and keeping that heinous undertaking alive in the public consciousness. "Those who are willing to forget," said Elie Wiesel, "may be considered accomplices of the enemy."

Most people also would agree there is a profound need to better inform people about recent atrocities in places like Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia. Spreading knowledge about all of these brutal campaigns has, one hopes, the potential to invest in people the power to resist the methods and madness with which tyrannical governments manipulate the masses to achieve their murderous ends.

Still, local Jewish groups are wary of the proposed expansion of a groundbreaking 1990 Illinois law requiring Holocaust education in schools to include all acts of genocide. These groups are concerned that the proposal might detract from the Holocaust as a central event in 20th century history -- an understandable sentiment given indications like the British poll and the persistent Holocaust denial of assorted cranks and nut jobs. The bill's author, Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), says the only intention is to acquaint schoolkids with the sad truth that genocide persists in the world.

In the end, both sides are in the right. At a time when generations are losing touch with the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism in the world is on the upswing, painting Hitler's concentration camps with a generic brush would be a mistake. This was a singular evil, a technologically advanced society devising an industry to eliminate an entire people, and it must remain singular in our collective memory. But survivors of African and Asian and Eastern European genocide, who don't have popular artists like Steven Spielberg to tell and preserve their story -- "The Hotel Rwanda" notwithstanding -- need to get their due. Attention, as Arthur Miller once wrote, must be paid.

Commemorating all victims of genocide isn't an impossible dream. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., gives prominent coverage to crimes against non-Jews. We must always respect what was -- as Richard Hirschhaut of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Skokie put it so well -- "a singularly unique tragedy in the course of human history." Still, widening people's concerns, encouraging them to reflect on the capacity of nations and individuals to commit inhumanities on other nations and individuals can never be a bad thing.



We say today: Never again
By The Editor
The Daily Star (South Africa)
January 27, 2005


Today marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where more than 1-million men, women and children, mostly European Jews, were killed between 1940 and 1945.

We ought all to take a minute to remember the murdered of Auschwitz and other death camps. And we also need today to remember that genocide did not end in January 1945.

The sacred injunction "Never again", humanity's promise to itself that the Holocaust should never be allowed to happen again, has unfortunately not been honoured.

At least three campaigns of genocide - attempts to rid the earth of specific people for no other reason other than that they are in some way different - have taken place in the world since 1945.

Between 1975 and 1979, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime killed 2-million people in Cambodia. From April to June 1994 an estimated 800 000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. And in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, between 1992 and 1995, Serbians systematically murdered more than 200 000 Muslims. More than 20 000 went missing and were feared dead. Two million became refugees.

Despite the Holocaust, the passing of time has not changed humanity for the better. Genocide, or attempts at it, have happened again and again since 1945 - and the forms they have taken have been far from subtle.

We need therefore not to view Auschwitz and the Nazis, nor the events in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as merely the products of historical circumstances. For, to do this, is to turn them into historical occurrences and to do away with our moral anguish.

Better instead to understand Auschwitz as a gruesome example of human behaviour with a universal message: When conscience sleeps, any group is prone to commit unspeakable acts.

Unless we cherish our consciences, any of us could become killers and any of us could be killed.

Now let us take that minute to recall the murdered and violated of the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. And to re-pledge to ourselves and those we know: Never again.



Holocaust survivors can remember without hating
By Jonathan Sacks
Daily Telegraph (London)
January 27, 2005


On January 27, 1945, Russian troops liberated Auschwitz and saw for the first time sights we still find difficult to comprehend – the reality of the so-called Final Solution in which all the Jews of Europe were scheduled for destruction. It is impossible to walk through the gates of Auschwitz, with their mocking inscription, "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes you free), without feeling that you have entered the gates of hell.

The Holocaust defies the imagination. To give the simplest sense of scale: the 21st century was transformed by a multiple act of terror on September 11, 2001, when 3,000 people died. During the Shoah, on average, 3,000 Jews were killed every day for five and a half years.

Whole worlds were destroyed: the bustling townships of eastern Europe where Jews had lived in some cases for almost a thousand years, the great academies of Jewish learning, the Jewish mystics, the Hassidim, whose joy in serving God was legendary, the more westernised Jews – doctors, judges, scientists, academics – and a million and a half children gassed, burnt and turned to ash. To this day, when I walk through the cities of continental Europe I feel the presence of ghosts.

This year, Holocaust Memorial Day will honour the survivors. It takes courage to survive. The Bible says that Lot's wife, turning back to look at the destruction, was turned into a pillar of salt.

How, I have often wondered, did people who lived through those events have the courage to continue?

Thirty years ago, when I was teaching philosophy, one of my fellow academics committed suicide. Only after he died did we discover that he was a Holocaust survivor. His memories had finally made life unbearable. There is nothing inevitable about survival.

Coming to know the survivors of our community has been, for me, a privilege. Having lost their families, they became one another's family, giving each other the strength to continue. For many years, the burden of memory was simply too painful. It took decades before they were able to speak of those years even to their children.

More recently, knowing that eyewitnesses were becoming fewer each year, many of them have taken on the task of education, handing their stories on to future generations. That, too, has taken courage.

What has consistently struck me has been how they have remembered without hate or desire for revenge. Their message has been simple: don't hate. Know where prejudice leads. Fight intolerance. Cherish each day as if it were your last. Love life and be willing to fight for it. Love the stranger, for how we treat strangers is the test of our humanity. Above all, remember, for without memory a civilisation travels blind.

I think of Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam of Klausenberg who survived the extermination camps, having lost his wife and all 11 of their children. During those years he made a commitment that if he survived he would dedicate his life to saving life. Eventually he built the Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Israel, committed to treating Israeli and Palestinian, Jew, Christian and Muslim alike.

Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz, founded a new school of psychotherapy on the basis of his experiences there. He called it Logotherapy, the "search for meaning''. What Frankl learnt was that, though the Nazis stripped their prisoners of every vestige of humanity – their possessions, their clothes, their hair, their names – there was one freedom they could never take away: the freedom to choose how to respond. He spent the rest of his life helping people to discover reasons to live.

Emmanuel Levinas, the French philosopher, was transformed by his experience of hatred. To others, he wrote, we Jews were less than human, members of a different species. The sole gesture of warmth he and fellow prisoners experienced was from a dog who, for a few weeks before the guards disposed of it, appreciated their company and barked in welcome when they returned each evening after their labour. Levinas called the dog "the last Kantian in Germany''. For the rest of his life he devoted himself to arguing that philosophy must begin with "responsibility for the other'', our duty to the stranger, the outsider, the one not like us.

The survivors in our own community, led by the redoubtable Ben Helfgott, became their own support network as they struggled to find their way back to the land of the living. What has long struck me is how they did not let trauma turn them in on themselves. They, more than anyone else, identified with the victims of other tragedies, in Bosnia, Cambodia and Darfur.

Last year, Holocaust Memorial Day was dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the slaughter in Rwanda. Beforehand I wondered how the Jewish survivors would relate to the Rwandans, so different in many respects. I need not have worried. There was an instant rapport between them. Grief, tears, the pain of memory are, I discovered, a universal language. Mary Kayitesi Blewitt, who has devoted her life to the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, told me how much she learnt and received strength from the Jewish community.

It would be good to be able to say we no longer need to remember, but it is not so.

In many parts of the world, the politics of hate still thrive. It is always easier to avoid real problems by blaming someone else. It is never true but, as a tactic, it rarely fails. Nations without freedom, human rights or accountable government, riddled with poverty, disease and illiteracy, continue to blame some outside factor or conspiracy, and so the tragedy continues.

Hate destroys the hated, but it destroys the hater even more. The lessons of the Holocaust are simple to understand however hard they are to live. Never blame others for your troubles. A society is as large as the space it makes for the stranger. Cherish life.

Fight for the rights of others. The Holocaust stands as the eternal symbol of what happens when we forget.

(Dr Jonathan Sacks is the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.)



Auschwitz's long shadow
By Julie Szego
The Age, Australia
January 27, 2005


Sixty years ago today, this Nazi death camp was liberated. But many Melbourne Jews still live under the Holocaust's pall.

As a child I was never very good at art, so the day I scored a compliment for a drawing sticks in my memory. We had to draw images from the Holocaust (this was a Jewish primary school) using charcoal and crayons. Mine was of a girl wearing the Nazi symbol for a Jew - a yellow Star of David with the word "Jude" (Jew). The girl, with black curls and dark eyes, looked a lot like me. "That's very powerful, Julie," said my art teacher.

Memories live not just in words but also in emotions. They pass by osmosis from parent to child - the past forms a template for the present. This is why events of more than 60 years ago can resonate deeply with someone born decades later. It is why as a child of Holocaust survivors, whose father was in the Auschwitz death camp, I see the world differently, just as some people see orange instead of yellow. And what I see today provokes an unsettling mix of anxiety and optimism.

Looking back, I realise that the eyes I drew were also those of my grandmother. They stared out from an oil painting in our living room. She had perished in a Nazi concentration camp at age 40. Black and mournful, her eyes seemed to speak a warning: "Honour my memory, never forget. Never think this can't happen to you too!"

It could happen here: even in tolerant, peaceful Australia. This is the subliminal message - however absurd I now know it to be - I absorbed as a child, as did many other of Melbourne's second-generation survivors.

My father was deported to Auschwitz despite his family having converted to Roman Catholicism. "You can try and pretend you're not a Jew," my mother would say, "but don't worry, someone will always be there to remind you of who you are." The moral: A Jew living under gentile rule is bound to receive a "reminder" at some stage. Don't get too comfortable here, because your descendants are destined to wander again.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, whose father was in the Auschwitz death camp, I see the world differently.

The answer was, of course, Israel: the ultimate insurance policy against another Holocaust. When I travelled to Israel in my late teens, I met a battle-hardened, charming and rather manic man who seemed to personify the ideal. "You know," he once whispered, "if anyone in the world thinks he can pick on little Jewish Moshe, just because he's little Jewish Moshe, then they'd better watch out - I'm here now!"

Israel symbolised the new dawn after a long night in hell; the end of the Jew as sitting duck. In my father's autobiography he describes sitting anxiously by the radio with my grandfather, pen and paper in hand, as the United Nations voted on partitioning Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state in 1947. When the Jewish state was declared, they stood up and hugged each other, wordlessly. As twilight's shadows gathered in the parlour, my grandfather sat down at the piano and began to play a tune my father had never heard before. "It was a tune so mournful and stirring," my father writes, "that I knew I would never forget it. And it wasn't long before I heard it again, this time as the national anthem of a modern Jewish state, Hatikvah - The hope."

For years, Israel was also a stirring hope for me. It seemed to be the one place where I could also enjoy the easy self-assurance I saw in my non-Jewish friends in Australia - what the father of modern Zionism Theodor Herzl, called "normalcy". I ached not to feel like the perpetual outsider; wrestling with fundamental questions of identity, always looking over my shoulder. I longed to escape the silent reproach in my grandmother's black eyes.

But the years passed in happiness. I studied, worked and partnered. The restless longing eased. My blessings as an Australian Jew far outweigh any existential doubt these days. If I'm a little torn between the place where I live and the place where history suggests I belong, it's no big deal. This big, decent country accommodates many contradictions. I am cradled in strong, soothing arms - far "too comfortable" and glad of it.

A friend recently told me she'd love to live in Europe because "the people are so vibrant, so engaged". I knew what she meant. And yet when I backpacked from Prague to Paris, the memorials to deported Jews and the ghost of once-bustling Jewish districts evoked a sadness that wearied me. She can have Europe, I thought. And the painful reality is that a Jew today is more likely to come to a violent death in Israel than anywhere else. Every suicide bombing shatters not only the lives of people who could be friends or relatives, but also a precious, desperate dream.

Even more frightening for most Jews is Israel's vexed place in the world. Sixty years after Auschwitz, the Jew among nations is the target of a virulent and menacing form of anti-Semitism in the West. On a recent trip to London, I was shocked by the graffiti that seemed to pop up everywhere: "Israel the Nazi state!" "Long live Hamas!" "Death to the Jews!" - words threatening another Holocaust. It would be nice to brush this off as the product of angry youths, but such sentiments are gaining resonance among Western intellectuals. It is almost fashionable these days to attack Israel's legitimacy, to scorn and demonise.

At times, all this creates a sense of loneliness. On fragile days I can feel depressed and wounded by an offhand remark of a colleague or friend, like "no offence, but sometimes you people act as if you're the only ones who've ever suffered". This not only misrepresents the significance of the Holocaust (which has to do with the depravity of the perpetrators rather than the subjective suffering of its victims), it's also plain wrong. A disproportionate number of Melbourne Jews have an intense empathy with victims of past and present persecution, such as Aborigines and asylum seekers. I can relate, almost viscerally, to the Stolen Generation's desire for validation, for someone to say: "You hurt and this is justified."

If the Jewish community appears sometimes overly protective of Israel, it is because the collective carries the same baggage that I carry as an individual. It is a bundle of shameful, primal fears - the whispering voice that says: "You cannot protect your own children." In Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, you stand in a dark room of tiny lights, like stars in the night and listen to the endless names of children who perished in the Holocaust. It gives expression to an infinite, devastating grief that I feel in my darkest moments when those names merge with mine, with my sister's children and now with that of my own baby daughter.

She is named Sara, after my father's grandmother who ended up in the gas chambers after a casual flick of the finger from Dr Mengele. She stands to inherit a good dose of fighting optimism from her father's Irish Catholic heritage. I want her to be "too comfortable" wherever she ends up. But I will also say to her: remember your namesake, remember your legacy, tell your own children, "Never Again!" She is an affirmation, a miracle. The future, fearless and bright, flickers in her eyes.

(Julie Szego is a staff writer.)



Editorial: Lessons from the Holocaust
The Australian
January 27, 2005


On the Holocaust: In a century marked by atrocities committed in the name of ideology, one horror stands out above all others, and it is the Holocaust. The millions who died in the Soviet gulags or were systematically starved to death in the Chinese countryside are no less worthy of remembrance than the 6 million Jews, gypsies and political dissidents who were gassed in the Nazi death camps, and their names stand as equally solemn reminders of the depths of evil to which mankind can sink in the name of a political mania.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.