The answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
I, like most American children, learned about the Holocaust in grade school. I think we learned at least several aspects about this dark period of world history in each grade beginning very early. I read the “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 6th or 7th grade. I still remember the shock I felt when I realized that his girl, who was about my age, went through such an unimaginable event. I remember her quote about there being good in all people regardless of what they were doing to her family and millions like them.
Later, on my own, I remember picking up “The Hiding Place” and reading it in only a couple of sittings. It intensified my already strong feelings about these years during World War II. It’s not that I “didn’t” believe it. I just couldn’t believe that such evil lies in the hearts of men and that it was really possible that such actions could be performed on fellow sojourners on this earth.
All through my young adult life and even to this day, I read “The Hiding Place,” by Corrie Ten Boom at least one time a year. And many years I read it two or three times.
This period in our history (irregardless of the bleakness of it) must never be forgotten. Those who forget the mistakes in history…live through it again.
Some things I never knew about Auschwitz (and the Holocaust, in general)…
- The Germans had a 1,000 year plan to erase the Jewish nation and her people from memory and to “streamline the human race into their “ideal” people.
- Auschwitz began as a concentration camp, not a death camp. A concentration camp is for re-education and punishment derived by work.
- Auschwitz became a death camp where over 1,000,000 people were murdered. Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau) became the German’s most “efficient” killing machine with carefully planned gas chambers and crematoriums.
- The German’s perfected their use of the gas chambers, first, with Soviet prisoners of war. Their first attempt took two days to complete (in other words, those who were being gassed spent an agonizing 2 days being slowly killed by the poison gas.
- As part of the 1,000 year plan, Auschwitz was to be expanded well beyond it’s 3 camps. The villages in the surrounding area were all claimed by Nazi Germany. Residents were given 20 minutes to get out. Then camp prisoners were brought to dismantle the houses and building brick by brick. The brick buildings and barracks at Auschwitz were constructed using the bricks.
- Invalids, the elderly, children and mothers (who had their children with them) rarely made it beyond the gates of the camp. Nearly every one was sent directly to the gas chamber where they believed they were going to be “deloused” and “disinfected” before entering the camp to stop the spreading of diseases. Instead they were gassed and their bodies burned and their ashes dumped in the nearby river or in giant pits behind the crematorium when there was no room in the trucks.
- During a span of 56 days in 1944, over 400,000 Jewish people were exterminated in the gas chambers that had become a very efficient and streamlined killing machine.
- Not long before the camp was freed by the Soviets, a group of prisoners who worked in the crematorium managed to burn and destroy one of the gas chambers. They realized their lives were coming to an end anyway (they knew things that the Germans didn’t want the world to know) so they chose to at least save as many as they could before they were killed by destroying part of the “machine.” Many of their stories are known because their journals were unearthed near the crematoriums where they had buried them to be found after the war.
- The world knew what was going on in these camps (specifically at Auschwitz) and, in fact, bombed a chemical factory several times that was situated near camp. They did nothing about the camp. The world stood by while the killing machine continued its work. And did nothing to stop it. Nothing. (Of course, eventually, the allied forces did come in and freed those who remained in the camps throughout Europe.
- It was the Soviets, not allied forces, who first arrived at Auschwitz to free the camp. The reason that so many Auschwitz survivors remember the Americans and British as their rescuers is that by the time they were saved, all but the most ill and unable to work had already been transferred to other camps (where they were freed by the allied forces). Those left in Auschwitz were the very sick, unable to work, unable to be of further use to Germany. They were left their to die. The Soviets spent months nursing as many of them back to a semblance of health. Many still died. All suffered terrible health problems and nightmarish emotional problems until their eventual deaths (either soon after the war or years later).
- The life expectancy at Auschwitz (on camp rations — and if a prisoner actually made it passed the gas chambers and into the camp) was 2-3 months.
- Food rations for the entire day was less than a full meal that was split up throughout the day. Not enough to sustain a person who wasn’t being worked to death, much less the prisoners of Auschwitz.
- The Jewish people killed in Auschwitz believed they were being relocated. They even bough their own train ticket to Auschwitz. Many didn’t realize what was happening until they began to suffocate from the fumes of the gas. It is reported that the sound of singing and praying could often be heard as the gas found its way into the lungs of its victims.
Should you visit Auschwitz if you ever have the chance? There is no question. Yes. See it with your eyes. Walk the paths of the well over 1,000,000 who died there. See their belongings, their clothes, their glasses, their hair. Walk into the gas chamber. See the crematorium (of camp 1). Walk beside the same train track that brought the people there in cattle cars.
We must not forget.
We must not ever stand by and let this kind of horrific tragedy happen again. Ever.