The death camps where millions were murdered

The haunted faces of men, women and children look on from behind barbed wire after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945 in Oswiecim, Poland. File photo: CNS/Yad Vashem Archives via Reuters

The memory of the horrific genocide by the Nazi regime that killed six million Jews and a million other innocent people will hopefully live forever in the collective memory of the human race. 

We just marked the anniversary of the liberation by Russian soldiers of the most notorious Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, on 27 January 1945. To recall the history is vital today as neo-Nazi extreme right-wing racist groups and political parties emerge once again in Europe and white supremacist groups march in the United States.

Only the brave of heart will read this whole article. It has to be written, the truth has to be told again and again so the racist ideology behind mass murder, genocide and torture will be opposed, condemned and stopped, and those who kill and have a policy of killing will be held accountable. Killing and murder can never ever be justified, it is always evil.

The recent anniversary events held in Israel and Poland recalled the mass murder of millions of people, most of them of the Jewish race, by the Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. The Nazi death camps and all torture cells everywhere today are the hell holes of evil on earth. Auschwitz-Birkenau is just one of 40 concentration extermination camps set up in Poland after it was invaded by Hitler on 1 September 1939. There were many more throughout Germany.

As many as 1.3 million people were incarcerated in Auschwitz-Birkenau—men, women and children—some as young as two-years-old and of them 1.1 million were systematically murdered and exterminated in gas chambers. 

They were brought from all over Europe in cattle cars, treated as valueless, marched to specially built gas chambers and were told to strip naked as if for a shower then gassed with deadly poison gas. They died twisting and crying out in agony.

The masses of bodies were carried out by prisoners, dumped in mass graves but most were brought to the ovens and burnt like rubbish, their ashes scattered in marshes. It is the most horrific genocide ever. What twisted grotesque evil in humankind can do such terrible atrocities is what we need to ask and answer. 

In all, as many as six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis between 1941 and 1945.  

The Nazi regime in Germany that came to power in 1933 headed by Adolf Hitler, an Austrian, set out to exterminate all who disagreed and opposed it by harassment, violence and death squads. They had extrajudicial killing squads, death camps and all-out war. 

Their prime target were the Jewish people whom Hitler blamed for the economic and social problems being experienced by Germany and Europe, and he and his cronies organised the mass murder known as the Holocaust. Millions of other people were also slaughtered: political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma (gypsies), the intellectually and physically disabled, gay people and any group that did not meet the Nazi standard of racial purity. 

The mass murder was driven by racism that is an ingrained attitude of one group that believes itself to be superior and having hatred, discrimination and antagonism towards others who are considered to be inferior, unwanted human beings.

Racists single out and target others for exclusion or extermination because they are of a different race, skin colour, religion, low status in life or are poor drug dependents. 

The Nazis considered themselves the master race. They had the power to continuously humiliate, vanquish and destroy whoever they liked with impunity and no accountability. Hitler promoted, protected and rewarded the most effective assassins and killers.  

I have not been to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, which is a memorial those who were murdered, abused, tortured, starved, worked to death and shot or gassed to death between 1933 and 1945. I have visited the Nazi concentration extermination camp of Buchenwald in Germany, near the historic cultural city of Weimar.

Buchenwald was set up in 1937. The prisoners were slaves. I walked in the freezing cold where they died of hypothermia, where they suffered, where they were worked to death, where they starved, suffered cruelty and unbearable torture. I saw where they died after being hung from the trees by their hands tied behind their backs as they screamed in agony. 

Others were subjected to cruel medical experiments. Nazi doctors set them on fire to test cures for burns. They poisoned others to test the speed of death. When it didn’t work, they were strangled to death. I walked in the death room where others were hung up on hooks with wire and left to die.

I stood with great sadness in a killing room. The prisoners were made to stand against a wall outside the room supposedly to have their height measured. I saw the hole through which they were shot in the head. Over a thousand were killed in this way. Their bodies were elevated in a large steel bin to the ovens on the floor above. There, I stared in shock at the six ovens in a row where the bodies were burnt day and night. The grey smoke of burning bodies pouring out of the chimney

The thousands of prisoners working nearby choked on the foul-smelling fumes of the incinerated humans. They waited for a similar fate like animals to the slaughter. 

They were brutally and shamelessly murdered at Buchenwald, almost with glee by the sadistic killers, assassins, murdering criminals who vowed to kill as many as they could.

I saw the photographs of piles of the dead skeletal bodies piled high like garbage. 

In all, 56,545 people out of 280,000 who were sent to the Buchenwald death camp were murdered, many Jews and people of all backgrounds. 

I went to touch the memorial slab. It is constant 37 degrees, the continual universal temperature of the human skin. In the freezing cold that the prisoners awaiting death endured, I walked along the once electrified fence to the entrance tower and looked up at the clock. It said 3:15pm, the time the liberating troops from the United States arrived on 11 April 1945.

There are no words, actions, policies, social problems that can ever justify killing of other human beings. Wanton mass killing is a horrendous crime, never right, always wrong, never to be justified. 

We have to say no, no, no, stop it, and never again.

Father Shay Cullen

Father Shay Cullen   

Author: SundayExam