I take time out, at this time each year, to study and ponder the implications of the Holocaust. The extent of the crimes, altogether, is too much to take in all at once, so I usually focus on one aspect. Like many people, I set aside time to commemorate the importance of remembering the Holocaust.
Even though the United States and some other nations also commemorate the Holocaust on different dates, most at least honor today as International Holocaust Rememberance Day. There is a special focus upon the Jewish victims of the Nazi crimes due to the estimated six-million deaths of people of Jewish descent. In addition, there were more than five-million deaths of people who did not fit the Nazi ideals of Aryan purity.
The International Rememberance Day demonstrates a commitment to the Declaration of Stockholm of 2000 and the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/7 of 2005. The signatory nations have promised to commemorate and teach about the Holocaust every year. The date was selected because January 27, 1945 was when the largest of the death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by the Soviet Union.
The aims of International Rememberance Day and most other Holocaust memorial days are to encourage education about Holocaust history in order to prevent future crimes of genocide and persecution. Organizers reject the claims of Holocaust deniers and all forms of intolerance, harassment, and violence against religious, ethnic, and other minority people.
Today, I want to mention the various camps that the Nazis designed and built to carry out their oppression of European minorities. The major classifications of installations includeed: concentration camps, extermination camps, labor camps, prisoner-of-war camps, and transit camps.
Before the start of the second World War, prisoners at the concentration camps were political dissidents, that is people who spoke out against the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler. There was also a large population of asocial, “bohemian” types. After 1938, a more organized anti-semetic persecution took shape with many more Jews getting sent to the various concentration camps.
Concentration camps are the most well-known of the camps in history. We have heard about the harsh labor, torture, starvation, and crowded living conditions. The infamous medical experiments were also conducted at these camps. Most infamous of these were Buchenwald and Dachau.
Aside from concentration camps were the extermination or death camps. There was no pretense of incarceration about these facilities. They were constructed with the only purpose being to quickly and efficiently kill large numbers of people. Examples of death camps include Treblinka, and Chelmno. The prisoners were herded into gas chambers or gas vans and killed.
As we can expect, the Prisoner of War camps incarcerated captured soldiers, and sailors of enemy forces. The “Mannschaftslager” camps housed NCOs and regular soldiers. An example would be Grabow. The “Offizierslager” were reserved for commissioned officers. The island camp of Magdeburg is a prime example of an officer camp.
Meanwhile the transit camps were set up in occupied nations. Think of Westerbork in the Netherlands. Jews and other minorities were incarcerated there before being shipped to one of the extermination camps in Poland. Our images of Jews being transported to concentration and death camps come from these transit camps. This is where lists of a thousand people at a time were compiled by a Jewish council. Those selected would then be loaded into railroad cattle cars for their final journeys.
There are some movements by other minority groups coming to maturity recently. Among them are members of the Roma or gypsy community. The Roma, like the Jews were branded as racially inferior and were likewise, singled out for mass extermination. Most were sent to Buchenwald, where the Roma were worked to death as slave laborers at the quarry or in neighboring armaments factories. There are now commemorations and monuments honoring the memory of the fallen Roma peoples.
The Nazis also had a strong interest in the elimination of homosexuality. The Nazis passed two laws that dealt specifically with gays. One in 1933, dealt with “sexual offenders”. The
second was the infamous “Paragraph 175, that criminalized homosexuality. It has been argued that the persecution of gays in the concentration camps was the most brutal, because they were considered to be the lowest of the low. The Nazis, along with the other prisoners tormented the gays. There are now, new monuments honoring the murdered gays in such cities as Tel Aviv.
So, today we honor the victims of the Holocaust, and, in turn, we remember the dangers of state sanctioned incitement to hatred and genocide. The world must say, “Never Again!”.
The Blue Jay of Happiness knows of the danger of Silence and Indifference. We can have a more harmonious world if we act on our responsibility to speak out for and protect minorities.