ON JANUARY 30, 1945, shortly after Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz death camp, a Polish doctor from nearby Oświęcim entered the vast Nazi complex to help care for the survivors. In his chronicle of what he saw that day, Dr. Tadeusz Chowaniec described his first view of Block 11, one of the 28 barracks that comprised the oldest part of the camp:
"We walked down the cement stairs to the cellar. The stairs were slippery, and splattered with blood and mud. Strips of underclothing, soiled with excrement, lay everywhere. The corpses of men and women filled the corridor, which was almost 40 meters long. The corpses were naked, and their rib cages and hip bones jutted out. The skin, which was all that held the bones together, was thin, greenish, and pale. . . . The dead lay in a bloody liquid. The people carrying out the corpses, clad in rubber boots, were up to their ankles in it. We looked on, stupefied."
The Germans slaughtered 1.3 million human beings in Auschwitz, of whom 1.1 million were Jews. Six of those Jews were my father's parents, David and Leah Jakubovic, and their children Franceska, Zoltan, Yrvin, and Alice. Gassed to death in 1944, they represent 1 one-millionth -- 0.000001 -- of the 6 million European Jews annihilated in the Holocaust.
On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, it hardly needs to be said that mass murder didn't end with the defeat of the Third Reich. In the decades since 1945, innocent men, women, and children beyond number have been massacred -- in Mao's China and Pol Pot's Cambodia, in the Soviet gulag and North Korean slave camps, in Rwanda and Bosnia, Sudan and Syria, Pakistan and India, Congo and Uganda. Yet even in an epoch that has shattered every record for bloodiness and barbarity, the Holocaust is unique. What sets it apart from other campaigns of butchery is not its body count or its brutality or its genocidal nature. Nor is it the rapidity with which it was carried out, or the international indifference against which it unfolded.
The destruction of European Jewry stands alone because it was not a means to any end. The "Final Solution" was an end in itself. Jews were not murdered by the millions in the context of a struggle for power or land or wealth. There was no political or economic rationale for wiping out the Jews; they had nothing the Nazis coveted, and Germany gained nothing by their deaths. There was only the monomaniacal ideology of eliminationist antisemitism -- the determination to track down and kill anyone born of Jewish ancestry. "It was precisely this -- the fact of being born -- that was the mortal sin, to be punished by death," the historian Yehuda Bauer has observed. "That had never happened at any time -- or anywhere -- before."
Jews were satanic, Hitler said -- the seed and prototype of the Judeo-Christian values to which the National Socialist revolution was so violently opposed. Their very existence was a threat to the Nazi creed of Aryan power, blood, and soil. Consequently, they had to be physically destroyed. Not segregated, not expelled, not forced to convert or assimilate. Destroyed.
Hungarian Jews, primarily children and the elderly, on their way to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.
To accomplish that destruction, one of the most advanced nations on Earth committed astonishing financial, industrial, scientific, and human resources. Murdering Jews was of a higher priority even than winning the war against the Allies. In 1944, with Germany's military position growing desperate, military personnel and freight trains urgently needed on the battlefront were diverted to deport half a million Jews from Hungary and eastern Slovakia to the extermination camps. My father and his family were on one of those trains.
Hitler has been dead for 66 years, but in the ongoing campaign against the Jewish state, Hitlerism thrives. "Its geographic center of gravity has moved to the Middle East," writes Robert Wistrich, the foremost modern scholar of antisemitism, "but the tone and content of the rhetoric, along with the manifest will to exterminate the Jews, are virtually identical to German Nazism. . . . Radical Islamists of every stripe openly proclaim at every opportunity that the eradication of Israel is a divine commandment, the will of God, and a necessary prologue to the liberation of mankind."
In the 20th century, an obsession with Jews fueled the Holocaust and plunged Europe into history's bloodiest war. Two generations later, Auschwitz is history. The derangement it embodied is anything but.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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