Monday, January 28, 2013

Remembering six million dead

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.

In the Holocaust, apart from gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses, six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany. Old men and old women; young men and young women; babies, boys and girls. Of the Jews who died, something like a million and a half were children.

Extermination camps were built. Killing squads followed the German Army into Soviet Russia. Jews were shot and buried. Some had to be dug up and burned. Others were shot and burned, but that was slow work. Then came mobile gas vans; finally, gas chambers and crematoria.

In Auschwitz, more people died than the British and American losses in World War II combined. More than a million perished in Auschwitz, 90 per cent of them Jews.

The largest gas chambers each held 2,000 people at a time. By 1944, 8,000 were being gassed at Auschwitz every day. About 400,000 Hungarian Jews were exterminated there in three months.

On January 27, 1945 the Red Army entered Auschwitz to liberate several thousand prisoners, including 180 children suffering from acute frostbite. The only reason the children had survived was because they were required for Josef Mengele's medical experiments. Three thousand twin children had entered the camp. Fewer than 200 survived to tell of its horrors.

Yesterday an Israeli government study presented to the Israeli cabinet showed a rise in antisemitic attacks over the past year. The biggest increase in attacks was in Europe. Parliamentary victories by a number of far-right antisemitic parties in Europe, it said, was a worrying trend.

The US-based Anti-Defamation League reported "dangerously high levels" of antisemitism in Europe last year, with antisemitic beliefs held by almost a third of the people surveyed. In France, 24 per cent of the population had antisemitic attitudes, compared to 20 per cent in 2009; in Spain, 53 per cent, compared to 48 per cent; in Hungary, 63 per cent, compared to 47 per cent. In the UK, antisemitic attitudes were up to 17 per cent, compared to 10 per cent four years ago.

Never again?