History denied is history repeated
There will always be among us those who listen to their own hatred, those who are slaves to ignorance and intolerance, and those who choose to ignore history and its implications. Such is the case with the Holocaust – there are individuals and organizations determined to downplay or simply ignore what happened in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe preceding and during World War II.
Catholic bishops in Germany, Poland and France have issued formal apologies to Jews for the Church’s silence in the face of the “Final Solution.” Survivors of that “solution” have told their stories, detailing the horrors of what happened. Allied troops who liberated the Nazi camps near the end of the war have described what they found, and miles of film was shot so that the world could at least see, though not experience, what happened.
At the Nuremberg trials surviving Nazi war criminals did not defend themselves by claiming that the Holocaust did not happen – their defense was that they were only “following orders.” There exist records of German railroads transporting millions of people to concentrations camps. Those records were found by Allied troops after the war, and contrary to popular opinion and the official name of the Nazi party, Nazi Germany was not socialist. Railroads were private enterprises that billed and were paid for shipping human beings in cattle cars – they were listed as freight, not passengers, and the trips were one way.
German industry developed more and more efficient crematoria for disposing of the millions of bodies that were the result of German policy. Zyklon B was developed to make gassing human beings cheaper and more efficient. Swiss banks collaborated with German officials to loot Jews and other victims of what happened, and to profiteer from German atrocities. Only recently have Swiss banks begun to be held accountable for their actions and admit their participation in the Holocaust. They will never be able to atone for what they did, just as private companies around the world will not be held adequately responsible. Some of those companies were American.
With all the above proof there is no rational reason to doubt that the Holocaust occurred, or that it was vastly more horrible than the worst accounts could ever portray. I’ve long been aware of the proof that exists about the Holocaust, about international cooperation or at least acceptance of it at the time, and of world powers hiding Nazis after the war, in some instances because governments agreed with much if not all of what happened, in other instances to gain political advantage against Cold War enemies. The United States was certainly one of the primary beneficiaries of what Nazi war criminals had to offer, in intelligence operations against the Soviet Union and in its rocket and space programs. But long before I know of all the proof, long before I’d seen any film footage about the camps or read the accounts of survivors or liberators, I knew the Holocaust happened. I knew so because of a conversation I had with a young woman when I was still a teenager more than thirty years ago.
My family lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, and my mother was and remains a friendly, outgoing person. She had several friends in the neighborhood, and seeing her sitting in the kitchen talking to friends was a common thing. One of those neighbors stands out in my mind. She was ten or twelve years my senior, married and had children. I had noticed she had a pronounced and unusual limp, and I wondered about it. One warm summer day she was sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, and I sat down and joined in the conversation. Before long I asked her how she had come to have the limp.
My mother was aghast at my asking the question, but something I learned that day and have remembered ever since is that people are not generally offended or angry when asked an open, honest question, so long as the questioner is willing to listen to the answer. I was not prepared for the answer I got that day, but I did listen – I was mesmerized. It’s something that has remained with me ever since, though I don’t remember the neighbor’s name nor do I know what happened to her or her family.
She was born in Europe, though I don’t know if she told me what country. She had an accent, though I don’t remember, or maybe I couldn’t recognize, what kind of accent it was. It could have been German, Polish, French or from another of the countries the Nazis conquered and occupied. She was Jewish, and that’s what mattered most in those dark, horrible times. She was born in the mid-30’s, and her family was eventually sent to a concentration camp. She was the only survivor from her family, something not uncommon because of the murderous efficiency of the Nazis.
Maybe her government found her family and condemned them, maybe her neighbors reported them to the Nazis. What happened in Europe was not done without the knowledge and complicity of countless people who betrayed their neighbors and tolerated the actions of the murderous psychotics to whom they surrendered control of their lives. What mattered was that her family was killed and she found herself the victim of “medical” experiments carried out on countless children in many of the camps.
She may well have been one of Mengele’s victims – if she knew specifically who did such terrible things to her, she didn’t tell me. But she did tell me that her legs were repeatedly broken in an effort to find out how many times bones could be fractured before they would no longer heal. Both of her femurs were broken again and again, and finally they could not heal properly – that was the cause of her limp. She was to be murdered by her captors – “disposed of” or other euphemisms are inappropriate descriptions – but the camp was liberated shortly before the action could be carried out. Ultimately, the Nazis were so overwhelmed by victims that they could not hide the evidence.
When our neighbor told me what had happened to her, she didn’t have anger in her voice or even in her heart. She had an aura of amazement, still unable to understand how it could have happened. She didn’t hate Germans or anyone else – she was primarily concerned about her children and her husband and her new life. Until the day I die I will always be able to see her eyes while she talked to me and described what had been done to her and to her family.
She didn’t lie, she didn’t exaggerate. She told me the honest, simple truth – the truth that makes the Holocaust real. When a government commits such atrocities, when people permit a government to do such things to one child or to millions of people and the rest of the world stands silently and watches, there is no defense, no refutation that will stand up. When people accept hatred and put it into practice, when neighbor betrays neighbor, when the slight differences among people are punishable by death, torture or even denial of equal dignity or rights, it happens again and again.
The genocide committed by the Nazis was not the first example of genocide, nor was it the last. It was, however, the most efficient and determined example in human history. Spare me the “revision” of that history, I know enough of history. And I know that as long as hatred and bigotry are tolerated and used to rationalize cruelty and violence against Jews or anyone else, it will happen again.