Most of these people were loyal to the countries they resided in, with many generations of their family spending all their lives in the same country. They worked as responsible citizens, paid their taxes and lived as per the law of the land. Some had even fought for their countries in the wars that transpired in the decades preceding 1935. They belonged to countries across the length and breadth of Europe (barring a few like Switzerland).
There were 9 million of them before the holocaust. Only 3 million remained by 1945. The remaining 6 million, including 3 million men, 2 million women and 1 million children, were killed in over 3 years. Whole families and in many cases villages were destroyed. As a result, we don't even know the names of the many who died - literally the existence of a soul was wiped out from every living memory. If you still haven't guessed who I am talking about, I am talking about the murdered Jews of Europe, the memorial of whom I recently visited in Berlin.
Achieving the number across the expanse of a continent in such a short time is no mere feat. Mass murder factories were created with an immaculate logistics system, to identify, segregate, hunt, capture, displace, store, transfer, torture, experiment with and kill in the most inhumane ways possible. The average life expectancy of these people once they reached the death camps was 3 months, depending on their ability to do productive work for their captors and their resistance to the torture before their bodies or minds broke.
What was more shocking is what drove the people who managed the system of mass killing, especially those in the frontlines who were finally responsible for torturing or killing these people, day after day, year after year. I happened to listen to the words of a letter one such Nazi SS officer wrote to his family expressing the joy of having just killed some 100 women and children after having made them dig their own pit (yes, they did not even get a grave to themselves). I was amazed at the amount of unprovoked hatred that a manifesto, which was written on the basis of what could be if the Jews were allowed to thrive, could trigger.
More moving though were the biographies of the 15 families that historians were able to trace and the original transcripts of the letters and diary entries, which written by some of the vicitims who were murdered. I particularly was touched by these letters/entries:
"What is my life worth even if I remain alive? Whom to return to in my old home town of Warsaw? For what and for whom do I carry on this pursuit of life, enduring, holding out - for what?!" - Chronicler Herman Kruk, murdered in a German Concentration Camp in Estonia on 18th September 1944.
"Autum now. September 1. September resettlement with its horrors. A story in itself. It doesn't especially need to be recorded here. If something like that was possible, what else would be? Why war still? Why hunger still? Why a world still?" - Viennese writer and journalist Oskar Rosenfield, murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.
"31st July 1942. Dear Father! I am saying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they won't let us and we will die. I am scared of this death, because the small children are thrown alive into the pit. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly. Yours J." - post script under her mother's letter written by 12 year old Judith Wishnyatskaya, killed in Bylten, Poland in July 1942 .
We have all covered, in great detail, the subject of the first and second World War (WW I and WW II) in our history text books. While our books do cover the world wars in great detail, they seem to overlook the extent of the holocaust. When I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, I realized what my history text book should have taught me was more than just the dates of invasion, the names of the key participants and the various phases of the war that led to the victory of the Allied Forces.
They should have taught me that: Murder, torture and extermination are bad. War and violence should be the last resort of solving problems. Xenophobia is detrimental to the country. Brotherhood among citizens is beneficial.
What is the use of history, if we do not learn lessons from it. I am reminded of the lines by Italian writer and Survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp Primo Levi, which were written on the wall at the beginning of our walk through the memorial -“We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”
|Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe|