In The Gray Morning Light

In a few days it will be International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death-camp on January 27, 1945, by the Soviet army.    There are many things that continue to disturb me when I think about this period in time again, in addition to the unimaginable evil of it: a state run people extermination program …

arbeit macht frei

There continue to be folks today – morons is a good name for them – who deny that anything like the Holocaust actually happened. Typically, they will have their own demented ideological agendas that will prevent them from acknowledging the sickening truth of this event, but the well-documented fact remains that on January 20, 1942,  in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, 15 high-ranking Nazi Party and German government officials  got together under the leadership of Reinhardt Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (including the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), Gestapo, and Kripo) to discuss and coordinate of what they called the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question“.

While the official minutes of this this meeting did not reflect the actual ways and means of the implementation of this state sanctioned policy – we know from actual testimony provided by Adolf Eichmann who was present at the meeting that an agreement was reached to pursue the annihilation of all Jewish people, and that this strategy was subsequently implemented with deadly efficiency, resulting in the murder of as many as 6 million Jewish people.

And so it happened that – while Nazi Germany was at war –  at the outset life went on more or less as normal for the majority of the German population,  but some of their neighbours were forced from their warm beds in the very early morning hours, given 15 minutes to get ready, fathers, mothers, their little children, grandparents, entire families, generations, standing there in front of their homes, in the gray morning light, shivering, frightened, crying, a small bag of belongings clutched under their arms, to be trucked away to local railway stations, then transported in unheated goods trains in the middle of winter – packed so tightly together – there was no room to sit down during a journey lasting often several days. Pitch dark inside, with a bucket or hole in the floor for a toilet, men, women, young and elderly, children, babies, women expecting, giving birth, and all this indescribably suffering had to be endured by thousands of people just so they could be gassed to death at a distant location.

From a 1943 secret report by a German army officer that was smuggled to the Dutch Resistance, for further distribution:

The trains with the victims arrive from all the occupied territories of Europe. They are made up of cattle wagons whose windows are barred with barbed wire, in each of the wagons there are 120 people. Depending on the weather, about 90 % arrive alive, although more than once last summer, 50 % were already dead from lack of water. After the wagons arrive at the camp, the people are whipped out and into the surrounding barracks, and locked in. The next day or several days later, depending on arrivals, 700 to 800 people are pushed together in to a courtyard. They are told to undress completely, the clothes must be put carefully in piles and the shoes lined up. Completely naked, men, women, children are pushed along a passage between two dividers of barbed wire. Then Ukrainian criminals begin to cut and shave the women’s and men’s hair. The hair is collected carefully because it is used to seal the joints [Dichtungen] of the submarines [U-Boot]. For long hours, the poor people must stand in the biting cold or the burning heat. As soon as some fall, worn out by the harsh cold or the burning heat, the henchmen lash the naked bodies of these poor people with the whips. The pain and the suffering that takes place in these corridors defy description. Mothers try to warm their infants against their own naked bodies. There is hardly any talking, only the eyes of the poor people express a nameless suffering and dulled resignation. This corridor leads to an iron door of a stone building. The door is opened and the 700-800 people destined for death are whipped inside until they are squeezed like herring in a barrel and unable to move. A three years old boy who tries to run away is caught and whipped back inside. Then the doors are hermetically closed. Outside the building, a large tractor is turned on, its exhaust fumes are pumped inside the building by a small window, I could see the effects on the victims inside. Packed in, the poor people were standing and waiting for their last moment, there was no panic, no cries, only a low murmur that could be heard from outside, as though a collective prayer rose towards the sky. One hour later, all were dead. Sliding windows were opened from the outside for the carbon monoxide to be evacuated. A half hour later, some Jews came – they owe their life to this dismal work which follows – to open a door in the back wall and drag out the bodies of the gassed people outside, before carrying them to the pits full of lime prepared for this task. They must remove rings from the fingers and open mouths to pull out gold teeth if there are any. Each installation keeps statistics of the number of killings [Tötungen]. Every day, in other words, every 24 hours, three or four killings[Tötungen] take place. This means that for the four installations [Anstalten], 8 000 to 9 000 deaths per day. In all, 6 million and a half people have already been killed in this way, including 4 million Jews and 2 and 1/2 “institutionalized individuals” or so-called “Deutschfeindlichen”. The program includes 16 million and a half people, in other words, all the Jews in the occupied territories and all the Polish and Czech intellectuals. In high places, there is currently an emphasis on rapidity and it is planned to use a more efficient method of killing. Cyanide gas has been suggested but apparently it has not been used yet, so the killing continues to take place in the cynical manner described above.
(March 25, 1943)

The ultimate indignity to human life – but there really are no words in any  language  that could capture in any  way the degree of terror, horror and pain that was inflicted on so many innocent men, women and children by the relatively handful of truly murderous individuals that made up the Nazi upper hierarchy.

Disturbing to me  is the fact that this unbelievable sick and demented  initiative was perpetrated by the leadership of a nation steeped in cultural significance as far as western civilization is concerned.  And here we have Reinhard Heydrich – the Chair of the 1942 Wannsee conference – himself  a talented classical violinist and son of a composer and professional opera singer, born into a family of social standing and substantial financial means, and often described as the main author of the Holocaust and the darkest figure within the Nazi elite. Hitler christened him “The Man with the Iron Heart”(1)

Oh – and before I forget – the Holocaust  happened to certain people only because they were Jewish – but that seems hardly relevant, does it? I mean, how could such a factor be relevant? Unless, perhaps, you were in a country ruled by  a mentally deranged homicidal megalomaniac who used its powerful army to act out his sick and deadly fantasies. No, it is the fact that this could have happened at all – where it happened, when it happened and how it happened – these the only things that matter here. How this could have happened – I don’t think I will ever be able to figure this out at all.

(1) It is perhaps worth mentioning that Mr. Heydrich’s iron heart stopped beating at the occasion of his death a few months after the Wannsee conference as the result of an attempt on his life on 27 May 1942 by a British-trained team of Czech and Slovak soldiers who had been sent on behalf of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to assassinate him in an operation named Operation Anthropoid.