“By the time the Soviet Army reached Auschwitz, my father was no longer there”

April 20, 2009

On the tracks to Auschwitz today

 

* “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.”

* Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman decided this morning to recall Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland after the Swiss government welcomes Iran’s Holocaust-denying president at the start of the “Durban II U.N. World Conference Against Racism” in Geneva today, and Swiss president hosts Ahmadinejad for dinner last night.

* The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland withdraw from the Durban II conference in Geneva as a result of the anti-Semitic atmosphere surrounding it, but disappointment as Britain and France decide to attend.

* Israeli President Shimon Peres: “I feel deeply hurt and ashamed that on the eve of a day of commemoration for the Holocaust, a racist conference organized by the United Nations is opening in Geneva today with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the keynote speaker. There must be a limit, even to the neutrality of Switzerland.”

* See also: This farce of a conference - organized by the UN, a farce of an organization...

 

CONTENTS

1. Holocaust Remembrance Day begins in Israel
2. The site of the greatest mass murder in recorded history
3. “My mother remembers the day she saw through the camp wire that her school friend from Amsterdam, Anne Frank, had arrived”
4. “A factory for death’ (By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe)
5. “Israel acts because the world won’t defend it” (By Daniel Finkelstein, Times of London)
6. Statement by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on the Durban II Conference
7. Summary of editorials on Durban II today from the Israeli press
8. The six candle lighters at this evening’s ceremony at Yad Vashem


HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY BEGINS IN ISRAEL

[All notes below by Tom Gross]

This evening, in a few hours from now Israeli time, Israel’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day commences. The whole of Israel will come to a standstill for two minutes at 8pm, when the 5.5 million Israeli Jews commemorate the six million Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust and those that survived. (Some Israeli Arabs also choose to take part in Holocaust remembrance events.) Most television and radio stations will suspend broadcast for 24 hours and all places of entertainment in Israel will be closed.

Another dispatch on this list, relating to Middle East politics, will follow in a few days, but this dispatch concentrates on Holocaust remembrance, and the lack thereof. This website primarily concerns Mideast politics and the media, but I occasionally include items concerning anti-Semitism because they can be relevant to the way in which government policies towards the Arab-Israeli dispute are formulated, and to the mindset and prejudices of those reporting on the conflict.

With Holocaust revisionism, denial, indifference, distortion and perhaps worst of all Holocaust inversion – in which anti-Semites in Europe and elsewhere try to invert the victims (Jews) and turn them into perpetrators (“new Nazis”) – running at record levels, the widespread failure to properly address the Holocaust complicates efforts to achieve Middle East peace. Among other things, it makes Israelis very wary of relying on international security guarantees.

 

THE SITE OF THE GREATEST MASS MURDER IN RECORDED HISTORY

I attach two articles below which I have run on this weblist before. Both are by friends of mine and longtime subscribers to this email list: Danny Finkelstein, an associate editor of The Times of London, writes about his mother and aunt, survivors of Belsen; and Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for The Boston Globe, writes about his father, an Auschwitz survivor.

Jeff Jacoby’s piece, written on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, was first carried on this website in January 2005. Jacoby writes: “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.”

 

“MY MOTHER REMEMBERS THE DAY SHE SAW THROUGH THE CAMP WIRE THAT HER SCHOOL FRIEND FROM AMSTERDAM, ANNE FRANK, HAD ARRIVED”

I previously attached Danny Finkelstein’s piece as recently as last January, but it was buried as item 16 in a dispatch in a week when (because of the Gaza conflict) there were five dispatches, so you may not have seen it then.

He writes: “It was strictly forbidden to have a notebook in Belsen, but my Aunt Ruth had one anyway. Just a little pocket diary – an appointment book with one of those tiny pencils. And in it, in the autumn of 1944, she noted that Anne Frank and Anne’s sister, Ruth’s schoolfriend Margot, had arrived in the concentration camp.

“My mother and my aunt had been watching through the camp wire when the Franks arrived. Mum remembers it well, because they had been excited to spot girls they knew from the old days in Amsterdam. They had played in the same streets, been to the same schools and Ruth and Margot attended Hebrew classes together. The pair had once been pressed into service to act as bridesmaids, when a secretive Jewish wedding had taken place at the synagogue during their lesson time.

“But Ruth and Margot did not grow up together. Because while Ruth and my mother lived, Margot and Anne never left Belsen. They died of typhus.

“I am telling you this story because I want you to understand Israel…

“…Israel has made many mistakes. It has acted too aggressively on some occasions, has been too defensive on others. The country hasn’t always respected the human rights of its enemies as it should have done. What nation under such a threat would have avoided all errors?

“But you know what? As Iran gets a nuclear weapon and so the potential for another Holocaust against the Jews and world opinion does nothing, I am not so sure that the errors of world opinion are so much to be preferred to the errors of Israel.”

***

I dedicate this dispatch to my friend Henry Orenstein, who is one of the oldest subscribers to this email list. Henry, now 85, is a survivor of five concentration camps and of the Sachsenhausen death march. He is the author of “I Shall Live,” published in 1987, with a foreword by filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, director of “Shoah.”

-- Tom Gross


FULL ARTICLES AND OTHER ITEMS

BY THE TIME THE SOVIET ARMY REACHED AUSCHWITZ

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 U.S. 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.

SHOES, SHIRTS AND DRESSES

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.

 

“I AM TELLING YOU THIS STORY BECAUSE I WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL…”

Israel acts because the world won’t defend it
The scenes from Gaza are heartbreaking. But the whole conflict could be avoided if the Palestinians said one small thing
By Daniel Finkelstein
The Times (of London)
January 7, 2009

It was strictly forbidden to have a notebook in Belsen, but my Aunt Ruth had one anyway. Just a little pocket diary – an appointment book with one of those tiny pencils. And in it, in the autumn of 1944, she noted that Anne Frank and Anne’s sister, Ruth’s schoolfriend Margot, had arrived in the concentration camp.

My mother and my aunt had been watching through the camp wire when the Franks arrived. Mum remembers it well, because they had been excited to spot girls they knew from the old days in Amsterdam. They had played in the same streets, been to the same schools and Ruth and Margot attended Hebrew classes together. The pair had once been pressed into service to act as bridesmaids, when a secretive Jewish wedding had taken place at the synagogue during their lesson time.

But Ruth and Margot did not grow up together. Because while Ruth and my mother lived, Margot and Anne never left Belsen. They died of typhus.

I am telling you this story because I want you to understand Israel. Not to agree with all it does, not to keep quiet when you want to protest against its actions, not to side with it always, merely to understand Israel.

There are two things about the tale that help to provide insight. The first is that all these things, the gas chambers, the concentration camps, the attempt to wipe Jews from the face of the Earth, they aren’t ancient history, and they aren’t fable. They happened to real people and they happened in our lifetime. Anne and Margot Frank were just children to my aunt and my mother; they weren’t icons, or symbols of anything.

The second is that world opinion weeps now for Anne Frank. But world opinion did not save her.

The origin of the state of Israel is not religion or nationalism, it is the experience of oppression and murder, the fear of total annihilation and the bitter conclusion that world opinion could not be relied upon to protect the Jews.

Israel was the idea of a journalist. Theodor Herzl was the Paris correspondent of the Neue Freie Presse when he witnessed anti-Semitic rioting against the Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus who had been falsely accused of espionage. Herzl was then among the small corps of journalists who in 1895 witnessed the famous ceremony of disgrace in which Dreyfus was stripped of his epaulettes.

The experience led Herzl to abandon his belief in assimilation. He became convinced that Jews would only be safe if they had their own national home. Herzl became the first leader of modern Zionism. For many years many Jews resisted Herzl’s conclusion. My grandfather was among them. But the experience of Jews all over the world in the first half of the 20th century – not just in Europe but in the Middle East too – rather bore out Herzl.

So when Israel is urged to respect world opinion and put its faith in the international community the point is rather being missed. The very idea of Israel is a rejection of this option. Israel only exists because Jews do not feel safe as the wards of world opinion. Zionism, that word that is so abused, so reviled, is founded on a determination that, at the end of the day, somehow the Jews will defend themselves and their fellow Jews from destruction. If world opinion was enough, there would be no Israel.

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again – again and again – the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

There cannot be peace until this changes. For Israel will not rely on airy guarantees and international gestures to defend it. At its very core, it will not. It will lay down its arms when the Jews are safe, but it will not do it until they are.

And if you reflect on it, doesn’t recent experience bear this out? Just as Herzl was borne out? A year or so back I met a teacher while I was on holiday and fell to talking with him about Israel. He was a nice man and all he wanted was for fighting to stop and to end the suffering of children. And he had a question for me.

Why, he asked, doesn’t Israel offer to give back the West Bank and Gaza? Why doesn’t it just let the Palestinians have a state there? If the Palestinians turned it down, he said, then at least liberal opinion would be on Israel’s side and would rally to its assistance.

So I patiently explained to this kind, good man that Israel had, at Camp David in 2000, made precisely this offer and that it had been rejected out of hand by Yassir Arafat, not even used as the basis for negotiation. I told him that Israel was no longer in Gaza, having withdrawn unilaterally and taken the settlers with it. The Palestinians had greeted this movement with suicide bombs and rockets. Yet the teacher, with all his compassion, wasn’t even aware of all this. And liberal opinion? Sad to relate, my new friend’s faith in it was misplaced. It has turned strongly against Israel.

Israel has made many mistakes. It has acted too aggressively on some occasions, has been too defensive on others. The country hasn’t always respected the human rights of its enemies as it should have done. What nation under such a threat would have avoided all errors?

But you know what? As Iran gets a nuclear weapon and so the potential for another Holocaust against the Jews and world opinion does nothing, I am not so sure that the errors of world opinion are so much to be preferred to the errors of Israel.

 

STATEMENT BY ISRAELI FM AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN ON THE DURBAN II CONFERENCE

Statement by Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman on the Durban II Conference
April 19, 2009

Israel cannot ignore the fact that the conference, which is hosting a serial Holocaust denier, is taking place precisely on the day in which Jewish people commemorate the six-million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, murdered in Europe by Nazi Germany and its followers.

Israel has decided to boycott the international conference supposedly promoting the struggle against racism, which will open tomorrow (April 20, 2009) in Geneva, because it reached the regretful conclusion that instead of discussing issues regarding the international struggle against racism and xenophobia, the conference will once again serve as a platform to denigrate Israel and single it out for criticism. This was the case with the first Durban Conference in 2001, during which the real issues on the international agenda were ignored in favor of unfettered attacks against the State of Israel.

An international conference, in which Ahmadinejad – a racist known for his constant preaching of Israel’s destruction – is not only invited to participate, but is welcomed as a central speaker, clearly demonstrates the forum’s true goals and character.

Israel cannot ignore the fact that the conference, which is hosting a serial Holocaust denier, is taking place precisely on the day in which Jewish people commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, murdered in Europe by Nazi Germany and its followers.

The State of Israel expresses its gratitude to those countries who have already announced that they will boycott this conference of hypocrisy opening tomorrow in Geneva, and calls on other countries to follow their example.

 

SUMMARY OF EDITORIALS ON DURBAN II TODAY FROM THE ISRAELI PRESS

Ma’ariv writes that: “At the 1938 Evian Conference, the world refused to stand alongside the Jews and allowed Hitler to murder them. In 2009, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a single voice is rising from Washington, Canberra, Berlin, Rome, Ottawa and Jerusalem: Never again.”

Yisrael Hayom writes that: “Those who seek ill for Israel, who are gathering in Switzerland for the Durban II Conference with the participation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and which is symbolically being held on Holocaust Remembrance Day, understand very well that the way to eliminating the ‘Zionist entity’ starts with eroding the memory of the Holocaust.”

The Jerusalem Post vigorously attacks Swiss President Hans Rudolf Merz for “shamelessly hosting serial Holocaust denier and Iranian President Ahmadinejad for dinner last night, on the eve of the Durban II conference and Holocaust Memorial Day… While Swiss leaders shamelessly fete Ahmadinejad, we Israelis are heartened by the decision of the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Italy to boycott the Durban II circus, along with its various sideshows.”

 

THE SIX CANDLE LIGHTERS AT THIS EVENING’S CEREMONY AT YAD VASHEM

The six child Holocaust survivors chosen to light the six torches, each representing a million murdered Jews, at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem this evening are:

* Identical twin sisters Judit Barnea and Lia Huber from Transylvania, who suffered the infamous medical experiments of Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.
* Mirjam Schuster from Moldova, who was imprisoned with her family at Balki, where out of more than 10,000 inmates, only a few hundred survived.
* Esther Debora Reiss-Mossel from Holland, who was sent to Bergen-Belsen at age six.
* Solomon Feigerson from Latvia, who survived numerous execution operations and labor camps.
* Shimon Greenhouse from Belarus, whose father, Yekutiel, dragged his young son down with him as Jews were shot in a death pit one by one, and Shimon remained beneath his dead father, dazed and covered with blood, for a full day.
* Lea Paz from Poland, who was pushed by her mother, Gusta, out through a narrow opening in the side of a train carriage carrying them to the Belzec death camp.


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