I can tell you nothing about Auschwitz because I still don’t know what it is. I haven’t found a way to understand what we saw yesterday.

In Birkenau — Auschwitz II — the Nazis turned mass murder into an industry. This is the place where trains ran night and day, delivering more than a million people to be exterminated. This is where Mengele waited for the new arrivals and decided who would be liquidated, who was fit for slavery and who would make a suitable specimen for his experiments.

There were no attack-dogs when we went there, no soldiers shouting, no crying children and no terrified old men or women, but it made little difference. The shouting, crying, pleading, barking, screaming, whiplashes, fists, rifle butts and gunshots are frozen in the air.

It’s all around you.

You don’t feel anger when you go to Birkenau. Anger is too small an emotion for the crime that was done, and anyway, there’s too much sadness in the stones and the fields and the bricks and the trees. Sadness seeps up out of the ground and fills you to overflowing when you stand on the rail-head where those terrified people arrived by the thousand in filthy cattle-wagons and were kicked off the trains by the brutes of the SS.

Seven thousand such brutes manned Auschwitz during its time in operation, and of them, only ten were ever punished.

We stood on the unloading ramp where the Nazi doctor gestured to the left for instant murder in the gas chamber or right for another month or two of degradation, starvation, torture, beatings, humiliation and dehumanisation. We tried to imagine what in the human spirit could possibly produce an obscenity such as Auschwitz, and I don’t believe any of us found an answer.

I tried to see the place as Mengele did while he waited for a train to arrive, looking down the track towards the main gate, but it was no use.

No matter how long I stood there, I couldn’t imagine myself into the moral void behind that man’s eyes. All I could see was the people arriving, having been tricked, lied to or brutalised into getting on the train. People with little children. Families. Old people. Artists, musicians, doctors, bakers, tailors, stonemasons, factory workers. Real people, huddling by this very railway track I now stand on, waiting for their fate.

Birkenau is a bleak, cold, windswept place. At the far end you can see the stand of birch trees that hid the gas chambers and the crematoriums. The Nazis blew them up before leaving, but the ruins remain as testament to the crime.

To your right, behind the electrified barbed-wire fence and the moat, you can see a forest of brick chimneys — all that’s left of the huts where a million prisoners lived, suffered and died. To your left you can see the brick-built huts that survived the looting when the local people returned to rebuild the houses demolished by the Germans.

Some of the timber huts have been recreated to give you a feeling for the way the people had to live. They’re horse stables with bunks in them, and in the sub-zero temperatures of a Polish winter, they are just one more form of torture.

Even the latrines were a means of dehumanising and humiliating people.

In Birkenau, I thought I was finally at the heart of darkness. I thought there could be no place sadder or more evil, but I was to discover later, when we went back to Auschwitz-I, that I was wrong.

Here’s the house, where the notorious Commandant, Rudolf Höss, lived, with his nice garden and his wife and his children, overlooking the extermination of an entire people. The picture is a little blurred, I’m afraid:

And here’s the gallows right beside it where they hanged him after the  war.

Höss recognised the enormity of what he had done, and though he never repented, he wrote in his diary that history would record him as the worst mass murderer who ever lived.

I have never been able to find a record of anyone expressing remorse for what they did in the extermination camps, though I’d like to think that perhaps there were people who experienced guilt for what they did. Otherwise, we have no hope.

They shot 20,000 prisoners in this courtyard, sometimes at the rate of one a minute, with a single bullet in the back of the head.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the windows are blocked, so that the prisoners wouldn’t witness the murders as they took place. In some demented way, they knew they were committing a crime, and this was how they revealed their secret fear of discovery. Incidentally, this is the same building where Mengele experimented on twin children and where other German doctors conducted experiments on hundreds of Jewish women. On the other side of the courtyard is Block 11, the death block, with dungeons in the cellar, including a starvation cell and a suffocation cell. This is the building where the Germans first experimented with Zyklon B gas pellets, killing 600 Soviet prisoners of war in the cellar. Its windows are not blanked off.

People call it the Death Wall, because this was the end of the courtyard where the Nazis carried out all those murders. I don’t know why they always did it here, but it must have been an appalling sight. On the worst day, they killed 1,200 people here. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine all those people, being stripped of their clothing, their dignity and finally their lives, to satisfy some insane ideology? What must this spot have been like, with blood everywhere, and the air full of gunpowder smoke, and people screaming and bodies piling up and workers dragging them away to the furnaces? What must it have been like? Would you literally be up to your ankles in blood? When would you stop thinking about it as you shot the victims? Would you become an automaton?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I’m only asking.

As I said earlier, I thought I had come to the very heart of darkness when I stood at Birkenau, and I might have continued to believe so if I hadn’t visited this:

In case you’re uncertain what it is, let me tell you.

This is a combined gas chamber and crematorium where people were murdered using Zyklon B gas.

Most people who walked through that open door during the war did not walk out again. When you go in, you turn right and walk down a short corridor. You then enter the gas chamber which has three openings in its roof. This was where prison guards opened the cans of Zyklon B and poured the pellets into the room, to slowly vaporise and produce the poison gas. Killing a room full of people — perhaps a thousand crammed in together — took about 15 to 20 minutes. Beside the gas chamber, the crematorium has three ovens and trolleys on rails specially designed so that they can be brought to the door of the gas chamber, loaded with a victim, swivelled quickly to slide into the furnace, and emptied.

It was very efficient insanity.

As I said to you at the start, I do not know what Auschwitz was, or Sobibor, or Majdanek, or Mauthausen, or Treblinka or Chelmno or Belzec or Bergen-Belsen, or any of the other obscenities inflicted on Europe by a Germany gone insane. I simply do not know.

I’m afraid it defeats me.

Jacob Bronowski said it better than I can



Philip Williamson

Gate to Hell

The Holocaust History Project



Alan Jacobs Pictures


86 thoughts on “Auschwitz

  1. For me, something as mundane as the luggage or the collection of shoes was enough to tip me over the edge.

    At the time, I’d one two year old daughter, and couldn’t even imagine the pain and suffering when I saw the little shoes, bereft of owners for more than sixty years, behind the glass.

    You will be glad in retrospect, as I say, that you didn’t pass up the opportunity to visit.

    Did you manage to make the Salt Mines?

  2. Roundy — Didn’t make it this time, but I’ll go back.

    Perfidious Albion — That line of discussion is entirely inappropriate for this post, and well you know it. Leave it out or I’ll take it out.

  3. Welcome back, Bock.

    My other half has visited Dachau. I doubt if he would ever want to return, but was glad to have stood there and honoured the dead.

  4. Excellent historical travel piece. I was wondering aloud earlier whether, if were Germans in 1939, we would have just been silent sheep like the others–I’d hate to find out.

  5. I have seen a lot of films, including many films about that period, but none of them really sum it up as well as your text.

    I really can’t imagine what a horror it must have been for all involved, including any soldiers on the German side who may have been terrified into doing this for fear of standing out.

    It is incredible that humans can do this sort of thing to each other, despite being very well aware of what they are doing. I hope that we never go back to that extreme form of degradation.

  6. Brilliant post. Brilliant pictures. Brings shivers down your spine, doesn’t it? As Daewin said I wonder how we would have reacted if it was going on in our midst.

  7. I visited Dachau in the early eighties and was reduced to near babbling insanity by a group of twenty somethings following me through a photo gallery of atrocities laughing and back thumping one another as though they were in a public park. My only conclusion was “it’s not over yet”

  8. Bock, Thank you for the photos, and for your words. It is truly mad what was done to others. It brings me to tears. Thank you again. The pics are great and heart breaking.

  9. Bock, It breaks my heart.

    I have thought and read much over the years on what most will glibly package up as ‘WW2’.

    Many dont want to delve to far into what really went on, I guess it could be partially guilt at having stood by and done nothing.

    We see a lot about the Allies patting themselves on the back at a job well done or arguing about who really won the war the Brits or the Yanks.
    But lost among all this is the shame they should feel, knowing all this was going on for years and did nothing.

    You watch news reels and see the Soviats and the Americans entering the ‘Camps’ and having to go about the grim task of dealing with the Dead, the Dying and the few who were lucky to survive,yes it was horrific for the foot soldier who was hands on and shocking for them because they ‘Didnt’ know what they were going to encounter.

    The inhumanity, the sadness ot such waste of life.

    However as usual the powers that be all knew what was going on, but as long as it wasnt on their door steps………………………

    It never ceases to astound me the capacity for EVIL that mankind has. We can talk peace and hope for the sake of our children that the World will become a better place to live….BUT….will it……………….

  10. A fine post.A visit such as described by you here is an extremely difficult and disturbing thing but also very humbling and I think anyone who has been through the experience walks away a better person.

  11. “it’s not over yet”–paulo

    It’s not. They’ve used both physical and psychological torture in Guantanamo. By all accounts they’ve broken people’s minds. David Hicks was allowed back to Australia only on condition that he couldn’t speak publicly. Ever.

    The many suicide attempts in Guantanamo were not a joke.

  12. “or arguing about who really won the war the Brits or the Yanks.”–close family friend

    The Soviet losses have been grossly down played because of the Cold War. It’s reckoned that they lost around 20 million. They are not given credit for stopping Hitler because it has been politically expedient (in a US dominated world) to put it all down to the Yanks, with British participation. A con-job.

  13. @ close family friend;

    Worth reading up on the (in)actions of Pius XII at the time, if you haven’t already-for further examples of hypocrisy and “christian” indifference.

  14. I’m always conscious of having been born into and living in easy times. I have no idea how to reconcile the horrors you speak of, Bock, with the nation of ordinary, hard working, honest people that I know Germans to be.

    I have no doubt that the human being is capable of such horror and of becoming numb to it, because we have done it through history and we continue to do so. A part of me – and I hope not naively – believes that even though a handful at the top were punished, everybody had to pay for their share of the crime, one way or another.
    The mind goes crazy if it stares into this for too long. The best we can hope for is a lesson somewhere learnt and a promise never to let it be forgotten. And your horrible post is certainly seeing to the latter. Well done.

  15. A heart-scalding post, Bock. I visited Auschwitz two years ago, while staying in Krakow, and I felt all that you did, but could not express it half so well.

    It was May when I was there, and I found the busloads of tourists pretty jarring. And I was in two minds as to how I felt about the young Polish couples, so many of them taking pictures of each other posing against frightful backdrops. On the one hand, perhaps it is this kind of normality that will eventually exorcise the evil from that dreadful place. On the other, WTF – THOUSANDS DIED INHUMAN DEATHS HERE AND YOU’RE TAKING PHOTOS OF YOUR GIRLFRIENDS YOU STUPID DICKWADS??!

  16. Thank you with tears of pain and anguish.
    It’s not acceptable…It’s not forgivable…I’m so, so afraid it’s in all of us…

  17. Having recently seen the film “Eichman”, I find your post very revealing. “A Germany gone insane” is one way of trying to come to terms with this madness and evil hatred. I’m not so sure i would have the courage to visit these places of horror, you could hardly call them tourist attractions.

  18. like Anthony above I don’t think I could deal with the emotion of the place.

    Your words have put a lot of shit in perspective, Bock. And for that I’m grateful.

  19. Thank you, Bock. A deeply moving post.

    Sad to say, but because human beings are so resilient, I think that given enough time they can get used to anything. It’s part of our strength and our weakness.

    War is very remote to us now in the West because we have professionalized volunteer armies, so we tend to forget perhaps how commonplace brutalities were in European societies not a century ago. The Nazis were men who came back from the trenches of the first world war with anger, resentment, hatred, and a capacity for inflicting violence without remorse. And not just the Nazis, as we know.

    As other commenters have observed, this kind of brutality continues, both in professional armies, where individuals are trained specifically to carry out violence against others, and also in places like Rwanda and the Congo, where genocide still takes place, albeit in a less industrialized manner. But because most of us are distanced from it both geographically and psychologically, I think it makes it difficult for us to comprehend. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, though, and this post does just that.

    Thanks again.

  20. I remember reading an account by someone who had visited the old prison wing in Tasmania where many of our distant relatives were sent for very minor offences. The writer’s reactions were very similar to yours. He said he felt drained of all emotions after visiting the punishment cells.

  21. Thanks to everybody for replying. I’m being a bit quiet because I want to stand back a little from the comments on this post and give people space to say what’s on their minds without me interfering.

    Just two points though. In reply to Kae Verens, I don’t think there were any terrified soldiers. All the guards were SS members and as far as I can establish, nobody was ever punished for refusing to participate in the murders at Auschwitz.

    Secondly, though camps such as Dachau were an abomination, and countless people were murdered in them, Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka were killing factories, carefully designed by very talented engineers to exterminate a race in the most efficient way possible.

  22. I remember watching a TV programme a long time ago. It showed the blue prints and tenders from company’s looking for this work.
    These plans and tenders came from people far removed from these places.
    The very same as if they were pricing the building of a factory,I still cant get my head around it all these years later.

  23. I don’t want to get into an argument about my concentration camp was bigger/smaller than yours, but I would not downgrade Dachau just because of its timing, size and throughput.

    This was the earliest of the camps, it was very close to a population centre, which was either ignorant of it or chose to ignore it, and it was here that Dr. Mengele conducted his experiments.

    These camps are a seamless garment.

    There are ovens in Dachau, there are now also the history galleries and the ghosts are just as real.

    What broke me up was the upturned lit cigarettes placed standing in front of the ovens. I assumed that when people got that far in the tour they felt like lighting a candle and the only way they could do that was to stand up a burning cigarette which finally burned down to the butt.

    Perhaps I was fortunate in my timing, but the day I visited, almost thirty years ago, there was none of blatant tourism which some of your commenters experienced. There was a sense of awe, hush, guilt and gut-wrenching sadness.

    I will never forget it, and still find it difficult to think about it much less talk about it.

  24. Just to comment on these comments; In war they say the first casualty is truth, posts as these would be considered that truth should war begin again here. No regeime can allow freedom of speech to interfere with their agenda. Same shit occurred with the nazi regeime and is an American reality today, we have a lot to protect.

  25. @Bock, I wasn’t being specific to this camp when I mentioned that soldiers might be frightened into conformity. It must have been a special brand of either angry or empathically null people that worked at these camps. In general, though, I can imagine some soldiers doing these things and having a horrible nightmare detachment – like watching themselves doing it because it was their job, but disagreeing with in with a silent part of their head (which possibly kept them awake at night).

    @de fan, this is also the basis of the film series “Cube”, which is a horror about a prison maze designed to kill in various ways – the reason for the existance of the maze was that government officials needed something to do. Terry Pratchett’s character Leonard Of Quirm was notorious for designing intricate destructive devices although he was a devout pacifist. It’s not hard to imagine a real-life equivalent.

    I find it difficult to believe that the camp was run by total sadists. /Some/ of them must have been distraught at what they were doing!

  26. Bock, I visited the holocaust museum in Isreal many years ago as a younger man. I met little old ladies that showed me tatoos on their arms and I have to say I cried when I realised what I was witnessing. I am not sure I could go to Auschwitz. I dont think I have the courage to do so. Evil does exist and the world must never forget. Your article here is excellent. Thank you

  27. Benny — It isn’t about which camp was worse. I want to illustrate the extraordinary mental detachment that went into designing the purpose-built extermination factories.

  28. What kind of monster could visit that place and laugh? Or use it as a backdrop for holiday snaps? A friend has described civilisation as a “psychopath hatchery”. It seems he’s right.

    Perhaps a visit in January, when the temperatures get into the low 20s might be one way of avoiding such creatures?

    Great post – and that clip of Bronowski was breath-taking.


  29. Great post Bock, on a subject that’s very difficult to write about. It brought back a rush of memories of a visit I made years ago to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There’s a sickness in the human soul, a deep disconnect from our place in the universe, and an ignorance of human nature and potential that allows such evil to arise so easily in so many, who tell themselves or their colleagues that some people are less than human, or not human at all, and therefore expendable. Meanwhile, the same grotesque mistake is made on a smaller scale every day throughout the world. Or as Terence McKenna put it, “Rome falls nine times an hour, and your job is to notice.”

  30. An excellent and very moving post. sadly there are those who would be happy to do it all over again, and those who are teaching their children to hate and blow themselves up.

    Also let’s not forget those of our politicians who haven’t learned from history and are enacting Laws to keep themselves in power, to clamp down on freedom and that are setting the conditions for a rerun.


  31. Well said Mr. Zeid.
    But odd coming from a politician. But I suppose you couldn’t expect much more from a politcian with a 93% attendance rate.
    Irish TDs would laugh at you. Showing up for work everyday, honestly they just wouldn’t take you seriously.
    And then, as if being a responsible public servant weren’t enough, you add insult to injury by warning your constituants about the potential dangers of RFID chips. Have you no shame!
    (Good for you Mr. Zeid)

  32. Unfortunately, you use the U -Tube vid at the end – and the person quoting Oliver Cromwell, that bastion of human rights…… sent to Ireland to oversee our near neighbours version of the final solution to the Irish problem. Next week s vid, Himmler in Drogheda, and he waffling on about etc etc. Embarassing, did you not take a look at the above before you gave same the last word?

  33. -Anonymous
    Do you know who ‘the person quoting Oliver Cromwell‘ is? Did you actually bother to listen to what he said. I suppose not, judging from your commet on the shoe thrower;
    Typical Arabs, always missing the target – just like they did in the 6 day war
    I’m no fan of Isreal’s policies or of Zionism but idiots like you really make me cringe.
    What Mr. Bronowski was saying is that, even though you are clearly an idiot, I should never believe myself superior to you to the point where I decide to make an extermination camp for cretins like you in the belief that I would be bettering the gene pool of all mankind. How lucky for you so may share his opinion.

  34. Anonymous — I will not be lectured by you about what I choose to put on this site. It’s clear you have no understanding of the significance of that video and I’ll thank you to keep your thoughts to yourself until you’ve switched on your brain.

    I’d also be obliged if you wouldn’t use two different identifiers for yourself.

    In future no more anonymous comments will be accepted.

  35. I am reading Höss’s “testament” at the moment and am struck by the detachment you refer to. I felt the same reading Camus’ “L’Étranger” though the consequences of the latter’s detachment were not as earth shattering.

    What scared me even more was the all pervasive sense of bureaucracy and the dehumanising cloak this conferred on the bureaucrat’s response.

    In this case it was the efficient extermination of millions of people. In everyday life today it is the subtle erosion of the humanity that used to underpin service, even commercial service, in the community.

    Life today is compartmentalised. Everyone does their own job – and no more. You have a problem? Send the fool further until his will to question is exhausted.

    So, in little bits, the human response is eroded.

    What has this to do with the Holocaust? Maybe not much if it’s just isolated individuals. But when it all adds up and gathers momentum?

    That’s why small stands, however apparently insignificant, are so important, and why it is never time to stop revisting this and other events like it.

  36. It becomes even more incomprehensible when you read about Höss’s successor, Arthur Liebehenschel, who tried to introduce a humane regime by stopping the random beatings and shootings, while at the same time continuing to send people to the gas chambers.

  37. Bock, it is unreal. Did he feel that trying to stop the beatings, outweighed the deeds of ending lives, in the gas chambers? I believe that there can be no explanation. It deeply saddens me, how did the world allow this to go on. And genocide still happens today. Once again Bock thank you for this great post, that causes so many emotions to arise.

  38. Primo Levi, who wrote an introduction to the “testament” seems to think that Liebehenschel’s more “humane” regime made Höss’s successor less of a brute, or Höss more of a brute, depending on your point of view.

    Blow your mind, what?

  39. @craic

    Nice interpretation/elucidation of Bronowski. Bang on.

    Cromwell was still a fundamentalist butcher. I don’t think Bronowski would have approved of his behaviour on this side of the channel.

  40. A young friend, in his 50s, just returned from visiting Auschwitz with the same photos, with the same despair, with the same troublesome question: How could the world let it happen?

    I’m 70, going on 100. I feel so old, so guilty of the sins against humanity. Presently, in our world, there are 5 children dying of starvation every ten seconds, because we allow spiraling food prices through market manipulations. It’s very visible. We know the real culprits. We do nothing…

    Bock, your inspiring post has awaken so many hearts to the unforgivable sufferings of the Jewish people. It made me also examine my own soul on our responsibilities in the continuing elimination of the powerless and poverty-stricken people.

  41. BSB — I don’t know what he felt, but I think yet again Liebehenschel illustrates the fact that these monstrous things were done by ordinary people, with ordinary emotions, who somehow managed to set their feelings aside. That’s why it could all happen again tomorrow.

    Benny — Cromwell was what he was, a man of his brutal time. That doesn’t diminish the quote Bronowski chooses: think it possible you might be mistaken. This is why I think Anonymous was being so stupid. He missed Bronowski’s point that even Cromwell had such impulses, but not, apparently, the Nazis.

    Claudia — It’s important to bear witness whenever we can.

  42. -Benny
    Thanks, it was a bit of an extreme interpretation, but it was more for the benefit of that other fool Anonymous.

    Every Irish person born since Cromwell knows that he was a butcher, but perhaps as Bock said, a man of his brutal time. What always strikes me as ironic is what Cromwell tried to do for England had some real merit. He killed the king, he hated the pope and he had no belief in the divine right to rule. Even more ironic is what happened after his death, after the reinstatement of the new king, he was dug up, hung, drawn and quartered then beheaded and his head placed on a pike where it stayed for a number of years. A tyrant for us and a traitor for them.

    A qoute is just that, a qoute. It’s the context that’s important.

  43. @Bock

    Bit at a loss here.

    I am not diminishing the quote as a statement of reason.

    However, Cromwell is not admitting to the possibility of any mistake on his own part but is asking what he sees as a fundamentalist enemy (the Kirk of Scotland supporting Charles II) to consider that it may not always be right.

  44. C’est La Craic

    Thanks for the comments. You’ve obviously “Googled” me. Yep I hate all of the police-state-surveillence crap.

    If I were in Ireland, I would tell the EUSSR to take a running jump, the Referendum is binding and democratic. And if they don’t like it, then what?? It would expose the EUSSR for what is is, a self-serving expansionist sham.

    Your politicians may be cowards, but the Irish people are to be saluted.

  45. @Zeidgeist

    Of course the referendum is democratic and binding. That is the beauty of it.

    Even if the question were to be reposed a hundred times over the referendum would be democratic and binding.

    It’s still a democracy if and until the machetes are unsheathed.

    And, apparently, you’re not in Ireland. So tend to your own democracy, thank you.

  46. Benny – I wasn’t suggesting you were trying to diminish the comment. That was in relation to what the anonymous person said.

    Cllr Zeid — Would you like to keep your comments on topic please? This has nothing to do with the EU.

    Show a bit of respect.

  47. Bronowski died over 30 years ago and would not have been privy to revisionist confirmation that Cromwell was guilty of at least two counts of genocide during his tour of duty in Ireland. I would be confident that if Bronowski knew what we know now that he would not have invoked/quoted Cromwell is his plea for tolerance.
    Nevertheless, the moral impact of the above video and posting is greatly compromised because it does
    invoke a mass murderer, there is no escaping this fact.

  48. This is a red herring. On the subject of Auschwitz, Bronowski has more moral authority than any of us, and I respect his right to choose that particular quote if he thought it was appropriate. Now let’s move on from this nitpicking nonsense.

  49. Hi everybody.

    For a truly excellent account of the Shoah, from a philosopher and theologian’s perspective read ‘To Mend the World: Foundations of Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought’ by Fackenheim. A profound work, like this blog.

  50. please desist from the outrage and compassion size competitions. there have been bigger, subtler and more savage genocides before and after. tasmania,american indians(100 million),gaza,amalekites,midianites,mao(50 to 80 million),stalin(23 million) irish civil war (where people were strapped around landmines in groups to be killed, so as to save bullets),
    currently 29,000 people are killed daily by food withholding and trade protectionist practices.
    so spare me the pollyanna undergraduate crawthumping and fingerpointing

  51. Bock, Frank gets my vote for that award. You even used two explanation points, Bock!! Of coarse well deserved.

  52. Mod Edit — Abusive anti-Semitic comment deleted.

    IP details: 86-43-163-111-dynamic.b-ras2.prp.dublin.eircom.net

  53. I came across your website in relation to the AIB criminals.I stumbled upon this article and I felt true sadness when I read this even though I have read many articles on the subject, the dehumanising of the people was enough for me.I came across an article on the company responsible for the gas that exterminated the people …yes it is still going, look it up. This was as usual all about money and deals going on.I urge people to find out about this.
    Excellent article, it is a shame that there is not more money in truth journalism, but maybe you are rich already with your wonderful mind!!

  54. Bock, came here via Savannah’s blog. Do you know the documentation by Claude Lanzmann “Shoah” from 1985? It in a way helps to grab what happened.

  55. watch ‘night and fog’ for a really good documentary on concentration camps. Its said to be the best documentary of all time and personnaly speaking is more powerful than visting auschwitz..

  56. How did the Nazi Party persuade the German people to hate and eventually allow the killing of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews?

    After WWI, Germany was a mess – at certain points, their money was literally not worth the paper it was printed on. That’s a very scary thing to have happen, because you’re never sure if you’ll get food or clothing or medicine if you get sick. And when things are going that badly and people are scared, they often look for someone to blame or something to do, because then they are less scared. They also look for a leader, because they need someone to protect them.

    Hitler was a very charismatic speaker, who filled the role of leader really well. And he picked the Jews as the people to blame, along with Communists, intellectuals, homosexuals, etc. He also gave the German eople a vision of themselves as perfect and ideal, with a higher calling that could only be fulfilled if they got rid of undesireables. All those things are very, very inviting ideas if you are starving and frightened and it worked.

    It’s also true that orthodox Jewish religious doctrine encourages Jews to think of themselves as “God’s Chosen People” and a cut above the rest of us. Put that together with certain behaviors that set them apart(distinctive clothing and hair styles among the Chasidim, for example) and it’s not hard for unscrupulous people in power to take the heat off themselves by pointing at the “foreigners”, the ones who aren’t “real” Germans, whatever. The same scapegoating is currently underway in the US, with Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans as the victims. During WWII it was Japanese-Americans and in WWI the German-Americans. We’re not currently rounding up the Muslims or Arabs and putting them inc oncentration camps, the way we did the Japanese-Americans in WWII, but who knows what will happen next year?

  57. Rachel: ”It’s also true that orthodox Jewish religious doctrine encourages Jews to think of themselves as “God’s Chosen People” and a cut above the rest of us.”

    Real orthodox Jews have a very different understanding of ‘chosen-ness’, which is a very misunderstood concept among gentiles – as well as some Jews who end up rather embarrassed and uncomfortable with this highly central aspect of Judaism. It has no racist connotations whatsoever.

  58. Jimbo, your question took me by surprise, so I referenced the dictionary. There is no explanation point, it is called an exclamation mark! Thank you so much for “pointing” out my error in such a gentle fashion!!

  59. A very informative post. Perhaps the best I have ever read. I think all citizens of a civilized world should visit this site.

  60. I read this some time ago and was left numb – it’s brilliantly pieced together. This may or may not sound wrong, but since having kids, I find it even more impossible to comprehend the scale of this and to picture it happening to innocent young children.

    It’s appropriate that this piece comes to the fore again in light of the Ryan Commissions report – the fact there are even any comparisons speak volumes for what has come to light in such explicit terms.

  61. All citizens of a civilised world should also google THE EVIAN CONFERENCE (1938) where the world (having seen, in Austria, the start of the Jewish persecution by the Nazis) refused to welcome Jewish immigrants to their countries. Hitler gloated…It gave him a green light to push his extermination program to a higher degree.

  62. Thanks for calling attention to this on facebook, Bock, I hadn’t yet discovered your blog the first time you posted this.

    It’s twenty-six years now, since I visited Auschwitz. Like another poster here, it was the glass display-box with the childrens’ shoes that finally made me start to cry. Even now, just remembering it, I feel the tears near again.

    Although there have been other genocides before and since – Rwanda comes to mind as an example where the so-called civilized world stood by and just let it happen – the Shoah is unparalleled by the sheer cold-blooded, bureaucratic, systematic brutality with which it was carried out.

    I’ve lived in Germany for over twenty years now. Apart from the lunatic fringe on the right, it does generally remain as a sad defining component of the modern German psyche. There are still issues arising from it being worked through here – as will probably be the case for every generation. Hard questions, some of them, like the boundary between ideas like guilt (which is, for modern Germans, most of whom weren’t even alive or only children then, inappropriate) and responsibility (which remains), which have to be continually renewed. As the question as to how much the Shoah, as the work of mad Nazi anti-Semitism, is the expression of a deeper, murky current in “Western,” (in some sense) “Christian” culture also remains.
    The present pope reinstituted the prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgy in 2008 – and made it compulsory: “That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men…”, which had been dropped after Vatican II. Not a particularly hopeful sign.

  63. frantheman – the German psyche was well-formed in 1872 – well into the Franco – Prussian War – when Mrs Bismark wrote to Mr Bismark – ” I think all the French should be killed; even their little babies. ” I await Number Four with bated breath.

  64. Frantheman.. “The present pope reinstituted the prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgy in 2008 – and made it compulsory: “That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men…”, which had been dropped after Vatican II.”
    I didn’t know that. Ratzi is a stupid bigot really. I can’t stand his arrogance.
    “Not a particularly hopeful sign.” – Hopefully he’ll kick the bucket sooner rather than later.

  65. FME The Bishop of Rome is pushing for the re-introduction of the Tridentne Mass (Latin) which was aboloshed by the second Vatican Counsel in the early 60s in favour of the vernacular Mass. The Latin Mass does contain that Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Rome said that they were aware of this and would address this issue.

  66. Like they address all other issues Seconds? Deny, deny, minimize, deny.
    Anyways, The bishop of Rome.. – The pope, is obviously aware of the issue if he’s the one who wants it reintroduced. :)

  67. Folks, there are many threads on Bock relating to all sorts of religious lunacy if you want to continue that line of discussion.

    I’d like to keep this one about Auschwitz and related matters if you wouldn’t mind.


  68. The world should never forget the savagery of Auschwitz and other hell holes
    like it. I believe it is the duty of every one of us to stamp out any form of
    racist or bully mentality, it’s the least we can do. Great post Bock

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