The Holocaust, symbolized by Auschwitz, the worst of the death camps, occurred in the wake of consistent, systematic, unrelenting anti-Jewish propaganda campaign. As a result, the elimination of the Jews from German society was accepted as axiomatic, leaving open only two questions: when and how.
As Germany expanded its domination and occupation of Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, the Low Countries, Yugoslavia, Poland, parts of the USSR, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Italy and others countries, the way was open for Hitler to realize his well-publicized plan of destroying the Jewish people.
After experimentation, the use of Zyklon B on unsuspecting victim was adopted by the Nazis as the means of choice, and Auschwitz was selected as the main factory of death (more accurately, one should refer to the “Auschwitz-Birkenau complex”). The green light for mass annihilation was given at the Wannsee Conference, January 20, 1942, and the mass gassings took place in Auschwitz between 1942 and the end of 1944, when the Nazis retreated before the advancing Red Army. Jews were transported to Auschwitz from all over Nazi-occupied or Nazi-dominated Europe and most were slaughtered in Auschwitz upon arrival, sometimes as many as 12,000 in one day. Some victims were selected for slave labour or “medical” experimentation. All were subject to brutal treatment.
In all, between three and four million people, mostly Jews, but also Poles and Red Army POWs, were slaughtered in Auschwitz alone (though some authors put the number at 1.3 million). Other death camps were located at Sobibor, Chelmno, Belzec (Belzek), Majdanek and Treblinka.
Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army on 27 January 1945, sixty years ago, after most of the prisoners were forced into a Death March westwards. The Red Army found in Auschwitz about 7,600 survivors, but not all could be saved.
For a long time, the Allies were well aware of the mass murder, but deliberately refused to bomb the camp or the railways leading to it. Ironically, during the Polish uprising, the Allies had no hesitation in flying aid to Warsaw, sometimes flying right over Auschwitz.
There are troubling parallels between the systematic vilification of Jews before the Holocaust and the current vilification of the Jewish people and Israel. Suffice it to note the annual flood of anti-Israel resolutions at the UN; or the public opinion polls taken in Europe, which single out Israel as a danger to world peace; or the divestment campaigns being waged in the US against Israel; or the attempts to delegitimize Israel’s very existence. The complicity of the Allies in WW II is mirrored by the support the PLO has been receiving from Europe, China and Russia to this very day.
If remembering Auschwitz should teach us anything, it is that we must all support Israel and the Jewish people against the vilification and the complicity we are witnessing, knowing where it inevitably leads.