Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hitler's House of Horrors

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz in January 1945.

It was actually a system — a network, if you will — of camps in parts of Poland. It was the largest of the German concentration camps and arguably the most notorious.

The Nazis, history tells us, committed all kinds of atrocities.

Not every atrocity for which they were responsible was committed in every place — but all the repugnant, barbaric, offensive acts ever committed by the Nazis were committed within the walls of Auschwitz — mass murder, human medical experimentation, slave labor, everything. It all happened at Auschwitz.

It is virtually impossible to document how many people were killed at Auschwitz, but the figure that has been agreed upon by most is 1.1 million. In the process of arriving at that figure, the number tended to vary considerably, a point that has often been seized upon by those who deny that the Holocaust ever occurred.

Most such denials have been discredited.

When the camp was liberated by the Russians, one of those liberated prisoners was a man named Elie Wiesel, a writer and, eventually, a Nobel Prize winner who had been, the Nobel committee said, a "messenger to mankind."

On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Wiesel gave a speech there, saying, "Close your eyes and listen. Listen to the silent screams of terrified mothers, the prayers of anguished old men and women. Listen to the tears of children. Jewish children, a beautiful little girl among them, with golden hair, whose vulnerable tenderness has never left me. Look and listen as they walk towards dark flames so gigantic that the planet itself seemed in danger."

Those are the words of one who has gazed into the gaping jaws of hell — and, somehow, has survived.

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