11/13/2006

Auschwitz

I recently finished the book "Auschwitz: A New History," by Laurence Rees, the Creative Director of History Programs for the BBC. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the Holocaust or WWII.

Its harrowing descriptions of the death camps of the National Socialist German Workers Party will, I think, trouble even the most hardened reader. For example, in describing the first few months in Treblinka, a death camp in Nazi occupied Poland, the author describes the chaotic atrocity:

To begin with, Treblinka operated more or less as the Nazis had planned, with about 6,000 people arriving to be killed each day. But by August the numbers had doubled and the operation of the camp began to fall apart. Yet the camp Commandant, Dr. Irmfried Eberl, still kept it open. "Dr. Eberl's ambition," said August Hingst, another member of the SS at Treblinka, "was to reach the highest possible numbers and exceed all the other camps. So many transports arrived that the disembarkation and gassing of the people could no longer be handled." As a result, many people were simply shot in the lower camp, but that, of course, destroyed the subterfuge that was the basis of the camp's operation -- no one believed they were at a disinfecting station when they saw corpses on the ground.

One survivor of Treblinka described the scene as thus:

As we disembarked we witnessed a horrible sight: hundreds of bodies lying all around. Piles of bundles, clothes, valises, everything mixed together. SS soldiers and Ukrainians were standing on the roofs of the barracks and firing indiscriminately into the crowd. Men, women and children fell bleeding. The air was filled with screaming and weeping.
The author goes on to describe the death rate in Treblinka: "In slightly more than a month's time, from between the end of July and the end of August 1942, an estimated 312,500 people were murdered at Treblinka. This is a phenomenal figure, a killing rate of around 10,000 a day and a death toll not even approached by any other camp until the height of the Hungarian action at Auschwitz -- in 1944 --when the four crematoria of Birkenau were functioning at full capacity."

Starting in Germany, with their own citizens, Hitler and the Nazis rounded up millions of Jews, Poles, gypsies, and others, loaded them onto freight trains and sent them to their deaths. For example, toward the end of the war in 1944:

400,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz. The percentage on each transport selected for forced labor varied -- sometimes it was as low as 10 percent, sometimes around 30 percent -- but the majority of people on board each train were always sent to the gas chambers. The camp had never seen a killing spree like it, with more than 320,000 murdered in less than eight weeks -- indeed, for sustained killing within the Nazi State the only comparable slaughter on that scale was the initial murders in Treblinka...
It was against this backdrop, then, that I watched the recent election coverage where I heard some left-winger refer to the Patriot Act as "fascism" and President Bush as a "Nazi." I realized then that these cutesy elitist references are not merely 'harsh rhetoric,' but are instead ridiculously repugnant. What a sickening ignorance one betrays to suggest that we live under a regime comparable to one that systematically carried out the execution of millions of its own citizens. Whether such a heinous lack of historical perspective is a failure of our educational system or a simple lack of moral restraint on one's vocal cords matters not. One can be free to vigorously oppose President Bush, the GOP, and all of their policies but I cannot think of a comparison more offensive to the memory of entire families weeping together on their way to the gas chamber than to suggest that our safe, consumptive little lives are similarly impacted by the policies of the present administration.

So the next time you see someone knowingly chuckle at a cartoon like this, remember Auschwitz. The next time you hear someone complain about the Abu Ghraib prisoners being forced to pose in a pyramid, remember this stack of bodies. The next time you hear someone condescendingly cluck at the "torture" of Abu Ghraib's prisoners posed for photos with underwear on their heads, remember "Dario Gabbai and Morris Venezia, cousins from Thessalonika in Greece, ...unwittingly caught in the Nazis' Sonderkommando recruitment drive":

Morris and Dario were taken to a brick building in Birkenau, given huge scissors, which they thought more suitable for shearing sheep than cutting human hair, and led into a room that was packed with naked human bodies. "We couldn't believe it," says Morris. "They looked like sardines in a can. The Kapo who accompanied them started clambering over the bodies, cutting off the women's hair at a frantic rate, demonstrating what he wanted Morris and Dario to do. But when the two of them both tried to cut the hair of the dead women, they were wary of standing on the bodies and moved carefully around them. This angered the Kapo, who beat them with his cane. So they cut more quickly, moving among the corpses, but as Dario stood on the stomach of one dead woman he pushed gas out through her mouth and the body emitted a groaning noise. "Dario was so scared," says Morris, "that he jumped from the top of the dead bodies."

There had been no explanation from the Kapo or the Germans about the nature of the job they were now expected to do, no preparations just immediate immersion in a world of horror. "Unbelievable!" says Morris. "How could I feel? Nobody can imagine what really happened and what the Germans were doing to us." What they did not know at the time was that the authorities at Auschwitz and other concentration camps had been ordered by the SS economic division in August 1942 to collect any human hair longer than about a couple of centimeters. It was to be spun into thread to make "felt socks for the submarine crews and felt hose for railways."

Dario and Morris learned that, to survive, they needed to adapt -- and quickly. As transport after transport was brought down into the basement of the crematorium,
they swiftly mastered the routine of their job. The new arrivals would be forced into the long, underground undressing room. Then, as the Germans shouted, "Schnell! Schnell!" they were told to take their clothes off and to remember where they had placed them, because the Germans also said they would need to recover them after their shower. Many of the women shouted "Shame! Shame!" as they were forced to rush naked towards the gas chamber that lay beyond. Says Dario Gabbai,

"There were people who were starting to understand that something funny was going on, but nobody could do anything. The process had to go [on], you know. Everything was done from the Germans' point of view. They'd been organizing this for many, many years --so everything was going through well."

The gas chambers of crematoria 2 and 3 were below ground, so the delivery of the Zyklon B (cyanide) once the chamber was crammed with people and the door secured was relatively straightforward. Standing outside on the gas chamber roof, members of the SS would take of hatches that gave them access to special wire columns in the gas chamber below. They would then place canisters of Zyklon B inside the columns and lower them, sealing the hatch again once the gas had reached the bottom.

From the other side of the locked door, Dario Gabbai and Morris Venezia heard children and their mothers crying and scratching the walls. Morris remembers how, when the gas chamber was crammed with around a thousand people, he heard voices calling out, "God! God!" "Like a voice from the catacombs -- I still hear this kind of voice in my head." After the noise ceased, powerful fans were turned on to remove the gas, and then it was time for Morris, Dario and the other Sonderkommando to go to work. Dario recalls,

"When they opened the door, I see these people that half an hour before were going [into the gas chamber], I see them all standing up, some black and blue from the gas. No place where to go. Dead. If I close my eyes, the only thing I see is standing up, women and children in their hands."

Well, at least Dario and Morris didn't have to wear underwear on their heads.

Am I suggesting we ignore or minimize what happened at Abu Ghraib prison? Absolutely not. It is disgusting. But for the left compare the excesses of a few soldiers, or the perceived legislative excesses of this adminstration, with the Nazis' systematic infliction of cruelty and death on entire races of people, and to do so for political gain, betrays an indifference to the plight of millions of dead people that makes a mockery of the whole concept of cynicism.

Note: All quotes from Auschwitz: A New History.

20 comments:

Wulfgar said...

I have to admit; that's one outstanding load of BS you just laid out there. Comparing the Patriot Act to fascism has nothing to with the actions of the Nazis as regards the death camps. It makes a statement about the control and manipulation structures afforded to a chief executuive under a certain abhorant political structure.

I also adore how you offer an anecdote about what "some leftwinger" said and then run willy nilly into "But for the left (to) compare the excesses of a few soldiers". That's a clever bit of slight of hand, I'm sure Goebbels would be proud of. ~wink~

Quick question, to the side: how many times do you hear or read "the left"/Democrats/liberals compared to Communists every fricking day? You know what the commies did, right? Just askin' ...

But hey, I don't want to get in the way of some well-manufactured faux outrage. You know who else manufactured outrage? Hitler!

(For the record, I've studied the Holocaust in detail ... history minor at MSU ... and I don't think it's a laughing matter at all. But it's also not a tool with which to silence opponents out of shame. It, as well as National Socialism are history, and are well open to be used for anology of worst case scenario without the "tisk tisk, you should be ashamed" from those doing the same thing.)

GeeGuy said...

Wulfgar, I am not surprised that you commented here; I was expecting it and looking forward to it.

First, you make a valid point about my "slight of hand." I wish it was intentional, but I am not nearly that clever. I heard a comment recently from "some left-winger," and did then slip to "the left." Fair point. Although to suggest that these 'analogies' to Hitler and the Nazis are rare among the left is disingenuous as well.

I try not to compare liberals to communists in favor of arguing that their ideas are socialist, or at least leaning that direction.

And, I think you are reading only what you want to read by suggesting I am trying to "silence" anyone. Dissent! Disagree! But to suggest that our present "abhorant political structure" comes even close to what the Nazis did is, in my opinion extreme overstatement and offensive to the memories of those who were truly persecuted, rather than those of us with enough time and wealth to sit around and argue on computer weblogs.

WolfPack said...

I googled "Bush Hitler" and got 2,800,000 hits in .25 seconds. Of the ones I read most concerned comparisons of Bush to Hitler. Now Wulfgar is not required to base his opinions on facts or spend the .25 seconds it takes to find them, lest he might attain right-wing enlightenment.

Walter Greenspan said...

GeeGuy you may want to follow-up your reading on Auschwitz with "Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz", that tells how surviving Polish Jews, having escaped the fate of 90 percent of their community, returned to their homeland to be vilified, terrorized and, in some 1,500 instances, murdered, sometimes in ways as bestial as anything the Nazis had devised.

For David Margolick's New York Times review of "Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz", by Jan T. Gross, please go here.

David Margolick, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the author, most recently, of "Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink".

PK said...

It's good to be aware of mankind's ability to be inhumane to other members of mankind. We can be inhuman individually as well as collectively. But what are the lessons to learn from these atrocities?

I suspect the allusions of Bush's leadership to that of Hitler refer more to the 1937 Hitler rather than the 1944 Hitler. Generally, but not always, a group sacrifices its humanity gradually.

Having someone else to blame for an atrocity seems to alleviate a sense of personal (and collective) responsibility. Is there a lesson to be learned from the Holocaust that can be applied to us, either individually or collectively or both?

The genocide in 1994 Rwanda, is still continuing, invisibly, today in the Congo and neighboring states although at a slower pace. Do we as individuals or as Americans have any responsibility there? Or in Dafur? Or in the northern part of Central African Republic? Or numerous other invisible places with invisible (disposable) people?

Romeo Dallaire posed the question “Are we all human or are some more human than others?”

The answers to the questions are complex, but for the most part we (individually and collectively) don’t appear to be trying too hard to find workable solutions.

PK said...

By the way, I remember a Times (?) poll during the Watergate era to identify the most hated man in history.

Nixon was number one. Hitler, Stalin, and Attila were distant also rans.

Was that mass insanity, mob mentality, or what?

The Raving Norseman said...

I am amused at wulfgar's charge of manufactured outrage, given that most of his blog reads to me as exactly that. In fact, I think his comments here are chock full of manufactured outrage, too. His shrill complaint of using the Holocaust to silence opponents is also amusing, as his compatriots use similar tactics pretty much every day. The absolute moral authority of Cindy Sheehan comes to mind.

Furthermore, wulfgar is no stranger to the practice of applying one jerk's missteps to an entire political movement, so I'd consider that complaint a tad manufactured, as well.

By the way, a quick Google search also reveals about 69,000 references to "Patriot Act" and "Concentration Camp," in case you were wondering.

And since we're whipping out our records here, I'll point out that I also studied history at MSU, enough to get a degree in it. Quite a lot of my study --including that year's senior seminar-- was devoted to 20th century Germany, and the Nazi years in particular, so I can argue from authority a bit, too. I found GeeGuy's comments on target. But what do I know?

GeeGuy said...

Um, I took a geography class once when I was a freshman.

Does that count?

The Raving Norseman said...

Heh. Well, I felt silly typing up my bona-fides, but I felt like responding in toto.

GeeGuy said...

I wasn't trying to knock you, Norseman. Just tryin' to bring a little levity to the conversation...

If it's possible to bring levity to a conversation about Auschwitz.

Wulfgar said...

Norseman, I know it pains you to admit that we have actually agreed about several things before, but you should really take heart and call me out when you think I'm manufacturing outrage. Or when you think I'm painting with too broad a brush. Trust me; I'm a man and i'll accept it. But just claiming I do it without cite or example? That's just shabby.

I know it may not have come across that way, Geeguy, but I also was attempting a little humor in my comment. I really do understand the horror and offense that one feels when people compare apples and oranges when the orange stands for genocide. It's not pleasant, kinda sickening really. That's why I have no stomach for Cindy Sheehan. But we should be very careful to recognize what analogies the other is making. Comparing Bush to Hitler does nothing to promote the idea that Bush engaged in Genocide, only that he's a dictator, with dictatorial mindset. Cindy Sheehan does carry the weight and burden of having offered and lost a son to the Iraq war. That doesn't make her a moral authority, it makes her a person with a view I don't share. The same goes for the events in Germany and Poland in the 1940's. Emotion gives sympathy to the argument, but reason will give it weight.

Despite the all-powerful wisdom imparted by Google, search engines don't make a link between GW and AH. Arguments can and do, without ever touching on or denigrating the waste of the Holocaust.

Wulfgar said...

And just for the record, the Patriot Act is, in my view, a tool of authoritarianism (fascism), but it doesn't hold a candle to the MCA. The MCA is a true horror, antithetical to everything America stands for. To call it a tool of fascism is to be kind.

Now you may commence with the liberal bashing.

;-)

The Raving Norseman said...

I was not aware that one was required to document a self-evident truth! But I'll try to oblige.

There's this one. I mean, criticism like mine could go too far and appear to suggest that you should water down your writing to mere one-sentence campaign stumps, and I don't mean to do that. But in this particular case, you took several hundred words to get to the obvious-from-word-one punch line, which was "Vote for Cyr." I think one could make the case that your already-well-documented distate for Sinrud might have been condensed in this post, but you had to do the melodrama thing. That looks manufactured to me. Your mileage obviously varies.

As far as broad-brushing it, here's a good one. Money quote: I think it's that Cynthia McKinney is a thorn in the side of the Republicants because she's for peace, when all they want is more useless war. I think it's because Cynthia McKinney is a Democrat, a Democrat who did something wrong (and possibly stupid) and the little chihuahuas on the right think that that atones for all of their anti-American loyalties and complete fuck-ups in supporting the criminal enterprise that is the modern GOP. And most importantly, I think that they desperately achingly wantonly lust for something to take focus off the fact that one (and hopefully more) of their heroes is probably going to jail for betraying the electorate of the country. I believe that they have deeply and lovingly embraced the politics of personal destruction, because destruction is all that they are really competent at achieving. Yup, no distinction between any particular movements within the Republican party or conservatism there; we all want useless war, we all worship Tom DeLay, we all are only good at personal destruction. Nope, no broad brush there. Bonus points, by the way, for presuming DeLay's guilt in the same post in which you archly refer to McKinney's alleged crime.

But, yeah, I'll admit it was shabby to make an assertion without a cite. Almost, but not quite, as shabby as constantly writing "Republicants" and acting as though that's incisive political commentary.

GeeGuy said...

What's the MCA?

Wulfgar said...

The Military Commisions Act of 2006, or as I like to call it, the Repeal of Article 1, Section 9 of the US Constitution.

Norseman, I assure you that despite your weak example, I haven't manufactured anything concerning John Sinrud. My outrage at him is very very real, and more deserved than I'm willing to share with you. But certainly, you see the difference between taking the instance of personal outrage and declaring that all right-thinking people will join you in that outrage against all things associated with the instance, analogous or not. On second thought, your second example shows that you may not understand that at all. (Notice, the last paragraph of that post sarcastically refutes the very point you're trying to make about me.)

And yes, I do think the Republicans have become the party of "can't". When you were searching my archives, you should have looked for my justification for calling them Republicants. Nothing shabby about supporting your ideas at all. And the nice thing about being me, or you, or Geeguy or anyone else online, is that we don't have live up to your sense of "incisive" for our commentary. The brave among us invite counter-commentary, and since you seem to have missed the point, that's precisely what happened here. What truly lacking in incisive bite was your assertion that my arguments shouldn't be taken seriously because, well, I'm me. And yeah, that's pretty shabby.

The Raving Norseman said...

One of us doesn't appear to know what "manufactured outrage" means, and I wouldn't be too quick to assume it's me. I'm sure your personal outrage is very real --indeed, it appears to be nearly all-consuming-- but that's not what I was referring to.

As for my weak examples, fair enough; I'm not that interested in turning wulfgar-arguing into a full-time occupation. I subscribe to your blog, I read the posts, I form an opinion. Feel free to poke me with a stick if I don't meet your standards of support when I comment.

And if you want to stick with "Republicants," hey, no skin off my nose. I'm sure people who use terms like "Dumbocrats" can justify it on their terms, too. "Dhimmicrats" is especially amusing. But it's hard to take name-callers too seriously, regardless of which side of the aisle they're throwing rocks from.

Geeguy, I'm sorry for my role in cheapening your interesting post by making it all about wulfgar. I'll stop now.

Anonymous said...

Wulfgar - Your immediate rush to avenge any perceived slight seems to impart a shallow mind, something that I know you aren't really guilty of. But the fact is that there is a significant difference between GWB and Hitler, and to combine them is to cause Hitler to be raised up and his crimes diminished. For what purpose is that?
I have stood on the grounds of Dachau where, even after all of the barracks had been removed, you can't help but feel that this is one of those portals to Hell. Maybe Abu Ghraib is another such portal. But the comparison of American soldiers who were acting without authority or direction to the planned and systematic destruction of 10,000 people a day is not only factually incorrect, but it diminishes the crimes of the Nazis in the very same act. This is not to say that you are trying to mitigate what the Nazis had done, but linking them to a few rogues is way out of line and reason.
Even the Military Commissions Act is not nearly horrific as you seem to want to paint it. I suggest that we follow the Geneva Conventions and execute anyone who is carrying out military operations without wearing a distinctive uniform, or using hospitals, schools or mosques to engage the enemy. All of these are war crimes. As such, they can all be punished by summary execution.
That would eliminate the need for any such commissions. Would that make you feel better?

Wulfgar said...

Would that make you feel better?

Actually, yes, very much, it would. The saddest part of the MCA is that it allows the representatives of the CIC the ability and legal right to declare others as 'enemy combattants'. As such, they are not allowed the rights of due process. Certainly, I'm not the only one to see the gaping hole there?

The MCA only applies to non-citizens of the US. However, anyone, and I do mean anyone, snared by the government under the auspices of the MCA is denied any opportunity to argue that they are wrongfully held. In other words, they are being treated illegally, with no legal means to show that. That's a catch-22, wouldn't you agree?

It has been argued that I only feel this way because I 'hate Bush'. Bullsh!t. Imagine if you will, that Hitlery gets elected, and that she's every bit as bad as LimpBough tells us she is. She orders her minority minions (they're always minorities, aren't they?) to arrest Limbaugh, Colter, Moore ... anyone that might stand against her. Those poor folk all get 'renditioned' to camps somewhere, and have no recourse whatsoever to argue their case. After all, they're enemy combattants. That's the whole point of the MCA. It's to thwart an enemy that can remain hidden. But if we give the Executive branch the power to remain hidden while hiding those who wished to remain hidden, then we offer unlimited power to those who may use it against us. Bush may not, Clinton may not. But someone will.

The MCA is an insult against everything that America is supposed to stand for. Everything. If the government required soldiers to drag people from their homes and shoot them on the spot ... fine. At least then, people would know where they stand. In Montana, I'm sure you know how that would go over.

My neighbor is the worst of liberals. He's from Vermont; he's arrogant, he's mouthy, he's elitist and he wants Bush to be impeached. If he disappeared tomorrow, I'd probably never notice. But if soldiers drug him from his home and shot him, they'd best be wearing good body armor. Because this American would do what a patriot should ... shoot back. That's why I favor your suggestion of following the Geneva codes. It let's me know where I stand with my government.

GeeGuy said...

Wulfgar, I'm going to jump in here. I do not profess to be an expert on the Military Commission Act (MCA) or even to have researched the subject in detail. But I have looked at the act with specific reference to the complaints you lodge.

First, you engage in a "clever bit of sleight of hand." Most of your argument refers to "enemy combatants," but from what I can see some of your complaints are directed against what the law defines as "unlawful enemy combatants," as distinguished from "lawful enemy combatants."

More important, though, you argue that any one of us can be seized at any time, held without rights or due process and, presumably, killed by firing squad on orders from the President. I guess I just don't see it.

First, only "alien unlawful enemy combatants" are subject to trial by the Military Commissions. (Sec. 948c) Thus, no American citizens or foreign soldiers who are sworn in allegiance to another nation are subject to these trials.

As far as no due process, it appears that even "unlawful enemy combatants" will get lawyers at their trials. (Sec. 948k(a)(3)) Further, the charges must be sworn, and the accused is free from self incrimination. (Sec. 948r) The accused as subpoena power to compel witnesses to appear and testify. (Sec. 949j(b))

And, finally, as far as the right to go before a court and contest one's detention (habeas corpus), that is only denied to aliens who are determined to be at war with us. (Sec. 7)

So, it seems to me that people who are found to be engaging in war against us have certain limited rights. If they are non-citizens, their rights are curtailed to a greater degree.

Let's consider the alternative. Would you suggest that if we have prisoners of war they should each be entitled to lawyers (at our expense) to go to court and challenge their status (habeas corpus) and have full due process rights in U.S. Federal Court? Are you suggesting that, for example, German POW's during World War II could have filed habeas corpus petitions in U.S. Federal Courts with taxpayer provided attorneys?

I'm not trying to pick a battle with you here, Wulfgar, because as I said, I am no expert. But tell me where I am going wrong. I just can't seem to find the part about dragging the arrogant guy from Vermont out of his house.

Anonymous said...

Geeguy, good coverage of the MCA, especially with regards to the provisions of counsel for the accused. Once again facts dispel fear, thank you.

But Wulfgar, your cheap shot:

"She orders her minority minions (they're always minorities, aren't they?) to arrest Limbaugh, Colter, Moore ... anyone that might stand against her. Those poor folk all get 'renditioned' to camps somewhere, and have no recourse whatsoever to argue their case. After all, they're enemy combattants. That's the whole point of the MCA. It's to thwart an enemy that can remain hidden. But if we give the Executive branch the power to remain hidden while hiding those who wished to remain hidden, then we offer unlimited power to those who may use it against us. Bush may not, Clinton may not. But someone will."

is way out of line. Why your emphasis on "minorities" as the agents of illegal activities. You don't really believe that they would follow such unconstitutional orders just because they are minorities do you?
Oh, wait, it must have been a cheap shot implying that I am a racist. Thanks, but I will decline your attempt to make me into a "monster." The use of allegations of racisim in order to quiet debate reminds me of Cynthia McKinney. I realy don't think you want to be associated with that do you?
If Bush really was the dictator that you claim him to be, why would he allow the Democrats to win both houses of Congress? Is he a totalitarian, or is he a wannabe that is incompetent? Or is your hyperbole just that?