27 January 2020 is the day we pay our respect to the victims of the Holocaust. On this day in 1945, the concentration camp Auschwitz was liberated. I’m afraid I have some bad news for everyone with good intentions: it was always there and will always be there. I am referring to the way people treat others. Others who are different.
I’m guessing you heard about the liberation of the largest concentration camp established by the nazis. In fact, there wasn’t just one concentration camp Auschwitz. Auschwitz I (Stammlager), Auschwitz II-Birkenau en Auschwitz III-Monowitz is what we now consider as Auschwitz.
On this day in 1945, the troops of the Red Army fought their way to make sure the city in the vicinity (Oświęcim) and the camps were liberated. During this battle, about 230 soldiers of the Red Army lost their lives. What the remaining troops saw when they entered this camp, was beyond their beliefs. It showed barracks, filled with sick people. These people were left behind. Actually, the troops of the SS were planning to wipe away this evidence. Even on the same day as the camp was liberated, people were brutally murdered. Days before the troops of the SS were busy with destroying everything that could be considered as evidence of a murdering machine.
On 7 October 1944, the members of the Sonderkommando started an uprising. Many of them were shot afterwards. They succeeded in sabotaging crematorium IV. The Sonderkommando were prisoners who took care of those who were sent to the gas chambers. After these people died, it was the Sonderkommando who was responsible for taking care of the bodies. This included the burning of these bodies in the ovens of the crematoria. Not every member of the Sonderkommando was killed though.
During the months November and December, the nazis were busy destroying the gas chambers and crematoria (II and III). Prisoners were used to taking care of buried bodies. All documentation about the wrongdoing had to be destroyed.
Together with large amounts of jewellery – from the prisoners of the camp and those who died – everything that could be in use on other locations were taken from the camp. This included bricks and wood. Together with large groups of prisoners, it all went to other camps closer to Germany. This was the main focus as of the second part of 1944. Prisoners had to walk until they couldn’t anymore. Many of them froze to death or were shot because they simply couldn’t walk anymore. These were the infamous Death Marches. It is estimated about 700.000 people were deported during this period. An estimated 250,000 people died from freezing, illness and exhaustion. These Death Marches didn’t only take place from Auschwitz, also from other camps. The Nazis were determined to make sure the Red Army didn’t find any evidence afterwards.
About 130.000 prisoners remained in the camp as of August 1944. At the end of the year, more than half of the prisoners were moved to other locations. Nine days before the Red Army captured the camp, a group of more than 60,000 prisoners were deported to Loslau.
At that time, the temperatures could drop to minus twenty degrees below zero. For those who didn’t freeze to death, didn’t get shot or had to give up because of exhaustion, there were trains waiting to take them elsewhere. Freight wagons transferred the remaining 45,000 people to other camps.
With only seven days to go before the camp was overtaken, the crematoria II and III were destroyed. The SS-troops began shooting people in infirmary. At that time, only 9,000 people remained in the camp under degrading conditions.
After blowing up the storage rooms for suitcases and other belongings of the prisoners on 23 January, explosives were used to take care of crematorium V. By now it was clear that the Russians were advancing and there was no time to kill all the remaining prisoners. This didn’t mean that they stopped entirely. On the morning of 27 January, a group of 700 prisoners were executed.
About 7,500 exhausted and mostly sick prisoners witnessed the overtake of the camp by the troops of the Red Army. After capturing the camp and making sure that those guards who were still there were captured, first aid was admitted for those in the worst condition. Together with members of the Polish Red Cross prisoners received medical care. And food. Because of the condition, these people were in, it wasn’t wise to provide them with too much food. Their rations were increased on a daily basis.
In February and March 1945 the group of 400 remaining children was reunited with their families. It was only an exception when this happened. Most children ended up in an orphanage or another institution because there was no longer any family alive. After three months, people were still treated in the infirmary of Auschwitz.
The Russians used this camp for prisoners of war. Mostly German and Ukranian troops, who were later deported to the Russian gulags.
Up to the 1960s, litigation was initiated against those who had been involved in the camp. For example as commanders or as camp keepers. Names such as Rudolf Höss and Irma Grese, they had to answer for their wrongdoing. Unfortunately, not all of those who were involved got punished. Many fled.
After the war, it became clear what had happened in this horrific place. Based on the number of deaths (1.1 million), Auschwitz stood out. It started to appeal to the imagination. How could this have taken place?
International Holocaust Remembrance Day
On the 27th day of January, we pay tribute not only to those who lost their lives in Auschwitz. We pay tribute to all Jews who were murdered by the nazis between 1941 and 1945. This day is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
But, Auschwitz – just like the other camps – wasn’t a camp where the Nazis killed Jews. Gipsies, homosexuals, political opponents and members of the resistance. They all saw what this nazi killing machine was up to.
But, these pages in our history books, they aren’t just something that isn’t related to other things.
Please lose the idea that hatred towards Jews was something that was invented by Adolf Hitler and his conspirators. This was not something new. Yes, never before in history has the persecution and destruction been documented as during the Holocaust. But these ideas, they weren’t new.
Jews were the ones who murdered Jesus Christ. They made a profit over the backs of others. With for example diamond trade or borrowing money. People forgot why Jews became masters in trade: because they were forced so. In my country – The Netherlands – it wasn’t allowed for Jews to become part of a profession or guild. This was taken care of long, long before Adolf Hitler and his NSDAP came to power. Take for instance the Sephardic Jews (Eastern Europe), they sook refuge in areas of the world where they feld safe. No, these people weren’t the richest people. They were stacked in ghettos. The Ashkenazi Jews were richer. They became – at least in The Netherlands – the masters of the trade. Let’s not forget that there was a time people from all over Europe, took refuge in this country because of the way religion was treated. The Netherlands fought a war with Spain and it wasn’t all about independence. It was also about religion. Or rather: the wish to have more freedom when it came to religion.
If we step back even further in time, let’s think about the year 1290. Edward the First was convinced that Jews murdered Jesus Christ and they weren’t allowed to practise their religion anymore. This lasted until 1656. Yes, they were allowed to practise their religion. It wasn’t until 1858 before they got equal rights.
Well, the examples go on and on. And even in the tolerant country near the North Sea where I live, the government tried to stop the Jews from seeking a safe place to live just before the war. The border was closed in 1939. A special camp – Kamp Westerbork – was established to make sure that all the Jews from Germany would be located there. Not elsewhere. Even the queen (Wilhelmina) made sure that this reception location wasn’t located too close to her summer palace. The ones who build the camp were Jews and the ones who were forced to pay for all of this, guess what: the Jews.
The Dutch government found this a perfect solution. So did the Germans by the way, when The Netherlands was involved in the Second World War in 1940. Between 15 July 1942 and 13 September 1944 about 93 trains drove off from Westerbork to Auschwitz and Sobibór. About 102.000 people were forced into freight wagons to the east. Only 5.000 returned home afterwards.
Those fortunate ones who did have the ‘luck’ to see everyone else die except themselves could return home. When they arrived home, they saw that their homes were now inhabited by others. Their belongings were sold. At that time Nationalism rose. Not in the way it did before the war. This time it was hate for those who came from Germany. The survivors of the concentration camps were those who came from Germany and besides, many of them were Jew.
People began to ignore this. Claiming those ‘brave’ Dutch People, all of whom opposed to the Germans. After the Sixties more and more people began to see what really happened. We weren’t a nation of only resistance heroes. Many people collaborated with the occupier. This left a nasty stain on the carpet. It’s still debate for discussion. Even after 75 years. Therefore it’s good to show a different kind of country. Not the country you see on television shows, series or movies. We were just a small country that was overrun by a bigger neighbour. When this happened, there were three groups of people. Those who resisted, those who collaborated and those who remained quiet.
In this country, people use prosperity after the war. New people arrived. From other countries. Not always being welcomed the way the should have been. In most cases, it was believed that they would only stat here for just a few years. They didn’t and it was their right to do so. Because they worked long and hard for it. Work that not everyone was willing to do.
This country changed. During this transition, things started to happen. Discrimination, racism and antisemitism. It all became part of the mainstream. Things were different now. People dressed in grey suits started talking about a need for change. It was time to end things because this country was going to hell. That is the message you can now hear in this country. A country that used to be known for its tolerance.
Today we think about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. We should also be thinking about what’s wrong today. It does still exist. I’m sorry, I wished I had some better news. Not only in my country but all over the world. Those politicians who claim they care on this day should consider what they’re saying.
It is monstrous. It’s a beast. It leads to nothing else but total destruction. That is what I teach my children. I talk about issues such as these, leaving out the parts that would really scare them. Why? Because I think they should learn about all of this. What discrimination and racism lead to. So that maybe, one-day things will turn. For good. It will all start with the realization that history doesn’t consist of some lose parts. It’s all related. We should never forget that. Also, we should never forget about those victims. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never.