The commemoration of the 75-year liberation of Auschwitz is over. We all heard and saw the stories of those who survived. And now, business as usual? After commemorating all of this, we should get back to things as they were? Like nothing ever happened?
Yes, the media covered the commemoration of the 75-year liberation of Auschwitz and the International Holocaust Remembrance Day thoroughly. It might help others to think about what happened and the way we see things today.
If only… The idea that after 27 January this all should not be closed or forgotten is not on everyone’s mind. How to explain all of this to those who weren’t even born or lived in other parts of the world. Even I live in another part of the world. I didn’t grow up in Poland or any other country where the Nazis located their concentration camps. I wasn’t even born when this all happened. Like me, there are many who were born in a different world.
In my country, The Netherlands, it’s considered as important to commemorate all of this. From this country, about 102.000 Jews were deported. From camps such as Kamp Vught and Kamp Westerbork. This is a delicate matter because the liberation of Auschwitz was also the liberation for others who were imprisoned there. Roma and Sinti (gipsies), people who were part of resistance groups, political opponents of the Nazis, homosexuals, Slavic people and many more. The liberation by the Russian troops marked the end of Auschwitz as the murder machine. However, this wasn’t something that many Russians thought about. Their goal was to capture Berlin. Let’s not forget that over 27 million Russians died during World War II. In my country, between 225.000 and 280.000 people died.
You may never have heard of cities like Eindhoven or Groningen. Consider the number of inhabitants of these Dutch cities: Eindhoven – 232.3347 people, Groningen – 230.817. Imagine that cities like these were abandoned after the war because people were deported and killed. Or that they died because of the war and hunger.
Yes, the total amount of Jewish victims is something that stands out. About 102.000 people were deported. Only 5.000 survived the war. In other countries, these figures were even higher.
Even in the months, my country was liberated by the Allies, between 50,000 and 56,000 people died. I’m not mentioning those who died in the Winter of 1944 and 1945: 22.000 people. As you can see, many died. All over Europe actually. So, why don’t we commemorate those on January 27? Why just the Jews? In Auschwitz, many died and not all of them were Jews. It’s because of the large amount of Jewish people who died there, that’s why. It’s because of the number of people who also died in other concentration camps or on their way to these camps. Let’s not forget, there were many more camps located in all parts of Europe. There were more, just like there was more than just one camp called Auschwitz.
In fact, Auschwitz consisted of three camps. Originally it wasn’t even built as a camp for total destruction. The former Polish military barracks were used to hold Russian prisoners of war. Together with captured Polish soldiers. This camp was named Auschwitz I, Stammlager. The second camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau was established in 1942. It was located about three kilometres from the original camp. Not only Jews were brought here. Also Roma and Sinti (gipsies), together with others from all over Europe.
When many talk about Auschwitz, they are referring to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Here most of the murders took place. The camp that was later established, Auschwitz III-Monowitz, was a work camp. Here prisoners were forced to do labour in the IG Farben and Krupp Stahl factories.
Still, many believe that there was just one Auschwitz. Wrong.
There is something else wrong when it comes to the three camps. It has to do with the knowledge people had about these camps. Witold Pilecki was responsible for the first detailed reports about what was going in these camps. Pilecki was part of the Polish resistance and made sure he was captured during a raid. He spent 945 locked up in Auschwitz. He finally escaped. He sent his reports to the Polish resistance, who passed the information on to the other Allies. Pilecki wasn’t the only one who reported all of this. Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler did the same. Parts of their stories were broadcasted by the BBC Radion. Later the New York Times printed parts of these reports. This was in 1944. Shortly before that, the Americans had bombed the Auschwitz factories. They didn’t do more. Nowadays, some people claim that they should have done more. It’s a logical reaction when you read about the events that took place between 1942 and 1945. It demands an outcry. But with the knowledge we now have, we can’t change history. The Allies feared that many would lose their lives if they would bomb Auschwitz. Yes, you can debate if this would have happened and if the casualties were higher than because of the murdering machine initiated by the Nazis.
It’s easy to judge based on the knowledge that was obtained during a later period. The what-if–questions. There is also another important what-if-question: What if we didn’t commemorate the victims of the Holocaust on 27 January? Because of the way some Jews nowadays occupy parts of Palestine? Why should you even care about that?
When a son is convicted because of the actions of his father, we condemn this. If the son has nothing to do with the actions, why should be condemned for what his father has done? In this case, let’s turn it around: why should we not pay respect for those victims of the Holocaust who had nothing to do with the current situation?
There are many examples of wrongdoings in history. Caused by ordinary people. For instance: in The Netherlands, 5% of the people collaborated with the Germans during the war. 5% participated in the Dutch resistance. 90% of the Dutch did nothing. They didn’t condemn, they didn’t revolt. For them, it was business as usual. Yes, mostly because they wanted or needed to survive.
When you take a look at these percentages, a different image comes to mind. Not the image we see in movies about the Second World War and especially the movies that include the Dutch history of that time. It’s not like we were this small Gallic village just like in The Adventures of Asterix (Astérix le Gaullois). For many people, this is something that is hard to understand. It’s difficult to face this truth. Do all Dutch people today have to pay for certain events? Do they deserve that? Should all Germans of today have to pay for the horrific events? Should we, therefore, stop to commemorate those who died during the Holocaust? Because of the way some Jews nowadays claim land that isn’t theirs to claim? Rubbish!
We don’t want to be associated with the ideas of some lunatic that commits a crime or plans a terrorist attack. When this is done by someone who is fanatic when it comes to religion, not everyone who professes this religion is, therefore, a fanatic.
After 27 January it seems as it’s business as usual. We have done what was right. World leaders paid their respect and it was time to listen to eyewitnesses. Case closed and moving on, right?
Wrong! It doesn’t need to end after this day. Racism is all around. Everywhere. Intolerance is something that people believe in. Discrimination is common for some people. Even politicians use words that are offensive to others. I’m not claiming that they would cause events to turn for the worst. Let’s not forget, that it all started with just words. We should always remember that. Not just on 27 January. It’s not business as usual, please not! Not ever!
What I told my children
Sometimes I find it hard to talk about certain topics with my two children. It has to do with their age. Not that my son has reached a certain age, he sees the world differently. He notices things that aren’t right. Two years ago he told me that a guy called Donald Trump was a bad man.
There are moments when my children ask for clarification or they are in need of answers. On any other occasion, we as parents find the need to tell them things. They now about the two World Wars that changed the world. Especially my son knows about all of this. He visited two camps during his life: Kamp Amersfoort and Kamp Westerbork. He can’t remember the first camp, because he was only two years old. He remembers Kamp Westerbork.
At the site where this camp was located, people called out the 102.000 names of people who were deported from Kamp Westerbork. I told him that they did so out of respect. I left out the parts about the Endlösung. Maybe that’s just selfish of me. It has to do with protection. Sometimes it’s hard to tell about all these wrongdoings.
There will come a time when they find out what did happen during these dark times. When the time comes, I will talk to them about it. Explaining that we should always be careful of a repetition of history. Because that what counts: talking about it and keeping the memories alive, no matter how awful they are.
De Nederlandse versie / The Dutch version