Facebook puts a damper on Holocaust Remembrance Day

April 9, 2021 • 11:15 am

I had forgotten that yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day (in transliterated Hebrew: Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, or in the original יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה), marked around the world but especially in Israel. The date varies from year to year as it’s fixed in the Hebrew calendar, which isn’t synchronized with ours.  The time will come soon when those who survived the Holocaust, including those who spent time in concentration camps, will no longer be among the living.

As I didn’t post anything yesterday, here’s a bit of news that shows that this genocide is remembered by many and denigrated by others. 

As a Jewish website notes, the picture below was taken in 2015 at the entrance to Auschwitz by Miriam Ciss, daughter of Julius Ciss, the executive director of Jews for Judaism, Canada. It shows Miriam holding the Israeli flag at the entrance through which so many doomed Jews (and gays, Romas, and so on) passed. The photo could be seen as a statement that the state of Israel was a result of what happened during the Holocaust.

If you find that offensive, there’s probably something wrong with you. But Facebook did! As the site notes:

Ciss has given us permission to repost what he wrote on Facebook, presenting Facebook’s response to the picture:

Last week I posted the following regarding how Facebook had tagged the attached photo as “insensitive”:

“It seems that someone complained to Facebook about this previously posted photo of my daughter at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. When I posted it, I stated:

“My daughter, Miriam Ciss, was in Auschwitz Concentration Camp today. My mother Helena and Aunt Dolly survived Auschwitz Birkenau. This is just one of the amazing photos she took. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.

“What I didn’t say was that aside from my parents and aunt, the Nazis murdered both my father’s and mother’s entire families.

“Well, today I received the following notice from Facebook: ‘Your photo wasn’t removed because it doesn’t violate our community standards, but it has been marked as insensitive because it could offend or upset people.’

I don’t know what that means, except that someone must have complained, and some functionary of Facebook in some country must have agreed with the assessment.  Fortunately, people complained about the “insensitive” label and Facebook apologized this way:

“It has come to our attention that a piece of your content was mistakenly flagged by one of our reps. This was a mistake and we’ve reversed the action taken. We apologize for our error.” – Eleanor, Community Operations, Facebook

The article ends with a touching incident that Miriam experienced in her 2015 visit to the death camps in Poland, but I’ll let you read that for yourself.

Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz, and wrote the moving book If This is a Man about his experience, said of the Holocaust:  “It happened, therefore it can happen again. . . It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”  I am not as pessimistic as he (his death was likely a suicide), but neither am I as certain as I used to be that we’ve moved beyond the possibility, at least in the West, that such a genocide could recur.

U.S. companies lobby against a policy forbidding use of Uyghur slave labor in their products

December 4, 2020 • 9:00 am

One of the world’s great instances of immorality—indeed, a case of cultural genocide—is the attempt of the Chinese to persecute and, indeed, wipe out the Uyghur Muslim minority, most of whom live in the Xingiang Autonomous Region in the northwestern part of the the People’s Republic of China—the area in red below:

According to the BBC, over a million Uyghurs have been forced into “re-education camps”—the Chinese government denies their existence)—while the AP reports that there has been forced sterilization of Uyghur women as well as other forms of coerced birth control, all meant to diminish the population.

Another form of persecution of the Uyghur is the use of the captive population by the Chinese as forced labor to make products or components of products that find their way to America and other Western markets. Companies like Coca-Cola and Nike, for example, have been accused of using materials or products (e.g., entire shoes) made by forced labor (it’s not clear whether the workers get any remuneration, but they’re working against their will, and often doing so in these camps, always under surveillance).

Other companies implicated, according to the recent (Nov. 29) New York Times article and the Business Insider articles below (click on screenshost), include Adidas, Amazon, Apple, BMW, Costco, Calvin Klein, Campbell Soups (some of the forced labor is involved in growing food), H&M, Patagonia, and Tommy Hilfinger. The NYT also reports that there are 82 foreign companies “that potentially benefited, directly or indirectly, from abusive labor transfer programs tied to Xinjiang.”

Now many of these companies, when asked to provide statements, deny that they are complicit in the use of slave labor, and assert that their own protocols and investigations have exculpated them.  (Some give no comment.) But, as Business Insider reports, denials are not convincing in light of the obstructions that China places against independent inspection and auditing:

AppleNike, and Coca-Cola have over the years been accused by human rights groups of a variety of labor abuses and worker exploitation, particularly in China. They have also made various pledges and taken some steps to address that criticism.

Monitoring that, however, has become difficult. Five major auditing groups hired by Western firms told The Wall Street Journal in September that they are no longer carrying out supply chain inspections in China because restrictions imposed by government officials have made it too difficult to effectively and independently evaluate working conditions in the country.

And the NYT concurs:

. . . for many companies, fully investigating and eliminating any potential ties to forced labor there has been difficult, given the opacity of Chinese supply chains and the limited access of auditors to a region where the Chinese government tightly restricts people’s movements.

In response to these reports, and in a very rare show of bipartisan support, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a new bill, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (see the bill here), whose provisions include these (from Wikipedia):

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would make it U.S. policy to assume (a “rebuttable presumption”) that all goods manufactured in Xinjiang are made with forced labor, unless the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection certifies that certain goods are known to not have been made with forced labor. The bill also calls for the President of the United States to impose sanctions on “any foreign person who ‘knowingly engages'” in forced labor using minority Muslims. The bill would further require firms to disclose their dealings with Xinjiang. A list of Chinese companies that have relied on forced labor would be compiled.

In light of Chinese obstructions against investigations, it seems reasonable to presume that slave labor has been used in Xinjiang-origin products, and for companies to either stop importation of products from the region, or conduct genuine, independent, and non-obstructed audits to certify that slave labor has not been used.  In fact, the bill passed the House by a lopsided vote of 406-3 (the “nay” votes were Justin Amash, Libertarian-Mich; Warren Davidson, R-Ohio; and Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky), with the Senate predicted to pass it as well. If it passes both houses of Congress, either Trump or Biden could sign it into law, and it looks like there’s enough votes that Congress could override a potential Trump veto (Biden won’t veto it).

However, the three stories below, also including one from the Washington Post, show that some U.S. companies have lobbied against this bill. While Nike denies the lobbying, asserting that it merely had “constructive discussions” with congressional staff (I don’t believe them), I am puzzled about why there would be any lobbying if the companies aren’t depending on forced labor. You might respond that they aren’t doing that, but that companies don’t want to go through an onerous and expensive process to prove it. But can’t they farm out the labor to places where it’s not forced and used as a form of persecution? Granted, it may be a tad more expensive, but I doubt Americans wouldn’t pay a bit more for assurance that slave labor isn’t being used.

From the New York Times:

From Business Insider:

From the Washington Post:

This is a serious charge, especially given the political climate in the U.S. today, formed in part by a justified repugnance towards slavery. Isn’t it possible for these companies to simply use non-forced Chinese labor from areas other than Xinjiang? What heartens me is that the House and Senate can work in a bipartisan way to effect positive change, even if this bill is a no-brainer.

House passes resolution declaring Armenian massacre a genocide; 2 Dems, including Ilhan Omar, refuse to take a stand

October 31, 2019 • 10:30 am

According to several sources, including the BBC and the New York Times, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a 405-11 vote (with three people, two of them Democrats, just voting “present”), a resolution recognizing as a “genocide” the mass killing of Armenians by Turks between 1915 and 1923. Here’s the business part of the bill’s text:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that it is the policy of the United States to—

(1) commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;

(2) reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and

(3) encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the United States role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.

From the report on the vote by the BBC:

The resolution passed by a vote of 405 to 11. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined her colleagues “in solemn remembrance of one of the great atrocities of the 20th Century”.

Mr Biden tweeted: “By acknowledging this genocide we honour the memory of its victims and vow: never again.”

It is the first time in decades that the full House has considered such a measure. In the past, attempts were thwarted by concerns that it could damage relations with Turkey, a Nato ally, and intense lobbying by the Turkish government.

. . .To become official policy, the resolution needs to be approved by both houses of Congress and then be signed by the president. But there is no vote scheduled on the measure in the Senate.

This vote undoubtedly stems from opprobrium by both Democrats and (amazingly) Republicans towards Trump’s unconscionable servility with respect to Turkey and President Erdogan, and his tacitly allowing Syria to kill Kurds. (The House also passed a resolution, again involving “yea” votes from both parties, to impose sanctions on Turkey in retribution for that country’s offensive against Kurds in Syria).

The vote, divided by party, is given in the screenshot below (click on it to see the breakdown).

My own judgment, though I’m not a historian, is that yes, there was ethnic cleansing of Armenians (a genocide) during that period, with historians estimating the death toll between 1 million and 1.5 million. Even Cenk Uygur, a Turkish-born American who long denied the genocide—and a host of the news program ironically named “The Young Turks”—has agreed, after years of denial, that yes, there was a Turkish genocide. And, as far as I know, the consensus among historians (except for some Turkish ones) is that there was indeed a genocide.

But I know how repugnant that conclusion is to Turks, as I’ve been warned not to bring it up when visiting Turkey, and have also heard liberal Turks argue with conservative ones about the issue, a discussion that always gets heated.

One wonders who the two Democrats were that bucked their party to vote “present”, a vote that effectively means, “I’m here but I’m not going to take a stand one way or the other.” I’ll name them below.

At least no Democrats voted “nay”. But 10 Republicans did, probably as a tortured defense of Trump’s bootlicking of Turkey.

Here are those ten nay-saying Republicans:

The Democrats who voted “present” were Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).  Omar may have voted “present” because she’s a Muslim and doesn’t want to condemn the Muslim country of Turkey.

That may indeed be partly true, because in her statement about her vote (see below), she objects to the Armenian genocide being used “as a cudgel in a political fight.” But the person and issue the cudgel is beating are Donald Trump and his ignoring the Turkish massacre on the Kurds!

Omar has never been reluctant to go after Trump, and so her vote in this case cannot reflect her reluctance to endorse a resolution that may obliquely criticize Trump. What she’s doing, in her muddleheaded desire to be a “progressive”, is acting as a mouthpiece for Turkey. And, according to NBC News, Omar’s refusal to take a stand has angered many, including Armenian groups and some of her own constituents. Further, it’s not going to endear Omar to Nancy Pelosi, who’s already peeved at “the squad”.

Below is Omar’s written explanation of her vote to CNN, an explanation that is simple “whataboutery”. As I said, the academic consensus is that there was indeed an Armenian genocide, so Omar is wrong to imply there isn’t general agreement. What she’s saying is that if you condemn one genocide, you must condemn them all (of course, what counts as a “genocide” must be Omar’s decision, not that of historians). Note that she refuses to give her own opinion on whether there was a mass slaughter of Armenians.

Here’s a BuzzFeed reporter “erased” by Omar:

The other “present” voter, Democratic Congresswoman Johnson, also once dissimulated about the genocide, at least according to the Washington Examiner:

Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas voted “present” on the measure. When asked in 2009 if she recognized the genocide, she said, “I don’t acknowledge, I was not around.”

This is the same reasons creationists use to deny evolution: “I wasn’t there to see it happen and neither was anybody else.” It’s incredibly lame.

Paul Gosar from Texas, was the sole Republican who voted “present”. His long explanation, which can be found here, is that he sees the resolution as an attack on Donald Trump (Gosar is on the hard right). The last bit of his screed derives from the resolution’s statement that it encourages recognizing “the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.”  Well, it’s not clear that this specifically refers to Trump and Syria.

An excerpt from Gosar’s statement:

I voted present on Adam Schiff’s poorly worded, inflammatory and false Armenian Genocide Resolution, H.Res. 296. Make no mistake—the Democrats do not care about the Armenian Christians from 1915. In fact, most Democrats today don’t care about U.S. Christians, much less Armenian Christians from a century ago. This resolution is a pretext to attack Donald Trump.

. . . I will have no part of supporting false comparisons, war-mongering, and agit-prop from the Democrat congress. I voted present, instead of NO, because I want it to be clear I fully recognize the historic record of the brutality in the Ottoman Empire campaign against Armenian Christians. I reject any effort to conflate that tragedy, over a century old, with what is happening in Turkey today.

Well, at least he admits there was a genocide. But he also claims that there’s no credible evidence that Turkey has recently committed atrocities against the Kurds, which shows you how tenuous is his grip on reality—or how frenetically he osculates Trump’s posterior.

The Lagers: A farewell letter from a doomed woman

July 15, 2019 • 9:00 am

This article from the Indy [Indianapolis] Star is more than a year old, but I still found it moving and wanted to call it to your attention (there’s a similar piece with additional information in the 2019 Journal Review).

Click on the screenshot to read the Star piece, whose words I’ve put in indents below:

In 1944, Frank Grunwald and his family, along with many other Jews, was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Grunwald (then 11) was standing in line with his mother Vilma and crippled brother, waiting for the gas chamber when, unaccountably, a German guard pulled him out of the death line and put him with children who weren’t to be immediately executed. (Frank’s dad Kurt wasn’t killed, but had been put to work earlier in the prison hospital.)

Here is Frank with his mom before the war:

And Frank’s parents:
As his mom waited for execution (most of those prisoners were aware of their fate, as they could see the crematorium smokestacks billowing ashes of the dead), she scribbled a ten-sentence note on a sheet of paper in pencil and handed it to a German guard.  It was addressed to her husband : “Dr. Grunwald F Lager.”  (F Lager was her husband’s barracks, and her husband had apparently been sent to Auschwitz before the rest of the family.) Unaccountably, the guard actually gave that letter to Kurt Grunwald.

The article tells the rest:

Auschwitz was liberated seven months later. Some time after that Kurt Grunwald was reunited with his surviving son, and said: I have a note here from your mother.

“I didn’t want to see it, I was too upset,” said Frank.

In 1951 the surviving Grunwalds moved to New York City. The father practiced medicine in Forest Hills. The son went to the Pratt Institute and studied industrial design. He got a job with General Electric in Syracuse and married his wife, Barbara. The couple had two children.

Kurt Grunwald died in 1967 at age 67, and it was while going through his father’s belongings that Frank came across the letter. “He had it in a desk in his bedroom,” Frank said.

“The paper had turned yellow. I saw it and knew what it was right away. I recognized my mother’s handwriting.”

The Grunwalds were Czechoslovakian, and Vilma had written in her native language. Frank read it.

Frank kept the letter to himself for ten years, and eventually donated it to the National Holocaust Museum.

Over the years the museum has received donations of thousands of personal artifacts. But Vilma Grunwald’s letter stands alone.

“I’m always reluctant to say it’s the only such document ever created,” said Judith Cohen, the museum’s chief acquisitions curator, “but to the best of our knowledge it is — it is the only one we have ever seen. Auschwitz, in the moments before gassing. In the extermination camps it was almost impossible to write material that was preserved.”

Here it is:

By now you’ll want to see what the letter says. It’s heartbreaking. Here’s a translation:

“You, my only one, dearest, in isolation we are waiting for darkness. We considered the possibility of hiding but decided not to do it since we felt it would be hopeless. The famous trucks are already here and we are waiting for it to begin. I am completely calm. You — my only and dearest one, do not blame yourself for what happened, it was our destiny. We did what we could. Stay healthy and remember my words that time will heal — if not completely — then — at least partially. Take care of the little golden boy and don’t spoil him too much with your love. Both of you — stay healthy, my dear ones. I will be thinking of you and Misa. Have a fabulous life, we must board the trucks.

“Into eternity, Vilma.”

The “into eternity” signature makes me tear up.

There’s nothing more to be said, except that although this is stirring, as is Anne Frank’s diary, they are unique only in that they are written documentation of the lives and feelings of doomed Jews. Multiply this letter by six million who did not leave words and you’ll have an idea of the enormity of the tragedy.

Frank Grunwald, now 85, with his mother’s letter


h/t: Ginger K. 

Al-Jazeera’s Holocaust minimalization

May 20, 2019 • 9:36 am

I won’t call this video, which Al-Jazeera posted on its website (and then removed it) an exercise in Holocaust denialism, as it admits that there was some imprisonment and killing of Jews by the Nazis. But what it emphasizes (click on screenshot below) is that the Jews get singled out for special remembrance because of their academic connections, financial and media resources, and so on. There’s also a clear implication that the “six million Jews killed” figure is exaggerated, and the commenter does not offer, when enumerating up the possibilities, the possibility that that figure was accurate (the three alternatives given are “no Holocaust,” “exaggerated Holocaust”, and “Zionists blew the Holocaust out of proportion because it helped them establish Israel”).

As the video says, “Nevertheless, the number of victims of the Holocaust remains one of the most prominent historical debates to this day.” There isn’t much debate about numbers, though: the Nazis killed about six million Jews and eleven million others if you count Soviet citizens and Soviet prisoners of war. This has been established repeatedly by historical scholarship.

The video also makes the claim that there was a pact between Nazis and Jews to make it easy for Jews to move to Palestine and get out of Germany if they surrendered their property to the Nazis. The Haavara Agreement did allow about 60,000 Jews to leave, but that was a desperation move by people facing death—hardly some kind of collaboration between Zionists and Nazis.  But Al-Jazeera uses that to say that “Hitler supported Zionism.” What better way to combat Zionism than to say that Hitler supported it?

The whole theme is how Jews both used and perhaps engineered the Holocaust so that Israel would be the big winner from it.

The outcry following Al-Jazeera’s posting of this video led them to take it down immediately and then beginning to file copyright-infringement claims against those who reposted the video. That itself is telling; why would they have it taken down if it’s accurate and they stand by it? What it shows (and I was naive enough to doubt this a few years ago) is that Al-Jazeera is a palpably anti-Semitic organization and spreads shameful videos like this to its Arab audience, though not its English-speaking one. Only the anti-Semitic propaganda of state media in the Middle East is more hateful.

Despite the video being taken down right and left by Al-Jazeera, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) still has has it on their site (click on screenshot below), and has English subtitles. Lest you think it’s distorted, I’ll bet a lot of dosh that this is an accurate translation. Why else would Al-Jazeera be desperate to hide this video from the public? But, as always, the Streisand Effect applies.

Here’s the MEMRI description:

AJ+ Arabic, an online media platform run by the Qatari Al-Jazeera Network, posted a video on May 18, 2019 about “the story of the Holocaust” on Twitter and Facebook. The video was titled: “The Gas Chambers Killed Millions of Jews – That’s How the Story Goes. What Is the Truth behind the Holocaust and How Did the Zionist Movement Benefit from It?” The video is narrated by Muna Hawwa, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who lives in Qatar and works as a producer for the Al-Jazeera Network.

The whole transcript is here.

Kelly Houle discusses her new art book: the poems of Abramek Koplowicz

March 7, 2019 • 12:15 pm

I’ve posted before about Abramek Kioplowicz’s poetry, how he wrote his poems as a 14-year-old Jewish boy imprisoned in the Polish ghetto of Lodz, and how Abramek was taken to Auschwitz and killed by the Germans. And I’ve highlighted Kelly Houle’s beautiful new art book in which five of Abramek’s poems were translated from Polish into English by my friends Sarah Lawson and Malgorzata Koraszewska, and then illustrated and put into a gorgeous printed volume designed and produced by Kelly (her husband Ken helped with the printing). You can buy this book here, alone or with a print. I have two copies (one for donation to a library), and it is really something to have. It’s also ineffably moving.

On January 29 of this year, two days after Holocaust Remembrance Day, Kelly gave a 45-minute talk at her alma mater Arizona State University, describing Abramek’s story and how the book came to be. It’s a lovely talk, and many times Kelly comes close to tears as she tells the story (I did, too, as did the moderator Katherine Krzys at the end). There are photographs of Abramek, of the ghetto, and of the book, and at the end there’s a treat: a Polish speaker reads Abramek’s poem “A Dream” in the original Polish, so you can see how it rhymed; then Kelly reads it in English.

If you want to skip the introduction, Kelly’s talk begins at 9:49, but I’d recommend watching all 53 minutes if you have time.

It’s Abramek Koplowicz’s birthday

February 18, 2019 • 8:30 am

I didn’t know about this until I was told by Kelly Houle, who recently published a lovely art book containing English translations (from Polish) of Abramek Koplowicz’s poems, written in the Lodz Ghetto before he was gassed by the Nazis. Abramek Koplowicz was born on February 18, 1930, and had he lived he’d be 89 today. But he died at age 14, one of many Jewish children murdered by the Germans.

I’ve written about Abramek and his poetry, the English translations made by my friends Malgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson, and about Kelly’s book, here and here. The art book is beautiful, and you can see it and purchase it here.  (If you’d like to buy copies to donate to the Library of Congress, or places like D.C.’s Holocaust Museum, that would be great. I’m purchasing one for the University of Chicago’s rare book collection.) There’s also a recording of Kelly reading Abramek’s poetry, including the title poem “A Dream”, here.

Abramek’s stepbrother Lolek, who survived the camps and a death march, is still alive and living in Israel at 94. Lolek is the one who found Abramek’s poems in a school notebook among his father’s possessions (Abramek’s father also survived the camps). Lolek brought the poems to the attention of Israeli journalist Sarah Honig, who published the story in the Jerusalem Post, giving a longer version on her blog.  Here’s a bit of the story from that site:

[Abramek’s] father, Mendel Koplowicz, labored at a workshop producing cardboard boxes for the Germans. An ordained rabbi, he became a confirmed atheist after reading many secular philosophy books. Abramek worked at a shoe-making workshop, occasionally showing up at his father’s workshop to entertain the laborers by reciting poetry and satirical skits in verse. The handsome boy delighted his listeners, who unanimously agreed that he was a genius. One of those who heard him was Haya Grynfeld, Lolek’s mother and Mendel Koplowicz’s co-worker.

When the Koplowicz family was taken to Auschwitz, the mother, Yochet Gittel, was immediately sent to the gas chamber. The father and 14-year-old Abramek were sent to forced labor. But as he left for work, Mendel Koplowicz left his son in the barrack in order to protect him from the ordeal. Upon his return, he found it empty. The Germans had come and sent all those inside to death.

Lolek Grynfeld and his family lasted in Lodz even longer. The Germans rounded them up only in October 1944, by which time they no longer deported their victims to Auschwitz. Thus, Lolek – who was a bit older than Abramek –ended up in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and his mother in Ravensbruck. His father was killed early on in the German bombardments; Lolek did his work quota at a ghetto hospital until it was liquidated in 1942.

At war’s end, having miraculously escaped death at Sachsenhausen, he was taken on one of the infamous German death marches: “On the fifth night of the ordeal,” Grynfeld recalls, “they locked us up in an old stable. Several of us conspired to escape. I tripped one of the guards and the others finished him off with their wooden clogs.” Thus, after several hair-raising encounters with the Germans, Grynfeld and his mother managed to survive and both returned to Poland.

And then Lolek met another survivor, married her, and they had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Abramek’s memory is kept alive by Lolek (who has had a memorial to Abramek built in Israel and a street named after him in the Polish town where he was born), and also by this book.

Here’s the only existing photo of Abramek (from Honig’s blog); he’s in the center flanked by his parents. His mother was also gassed.

Abramek’s notebook with his poetry (note that it bears the date of 1943 and the fact that it was written in the ghetto):

A painting of a praying Jew made by Abramek (he was talented!):

And Kelly’s book:

Finally, here’s a small excerpt from Sarah Lawson’s introduction to the poems in Kelly’s book:

Between one and two million Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust. Most of their names are lost except in the memory of family members and the records at Yad Vashem. They had no time to distinguish themselves on a larger stage. A pitifully few names have come down to us. Anne Frank is the best known example, and there were a few other young diarists and letter writers. Out of a million and a half European children, how many might have had important careers in medicine, science, and the arts? How many would have become parents and grandparents of scholars and diplomats, of writers and musicians? This destroyed potential is unknowable but undoubted. Imagine them all lined up and holding hands. The line would stretch for more than 450 miles.

The BBC shows its insensitivity on Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27, 2015 • 8:42 am

Seventy years ago today, the Allies liberated the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camp, and so today has been designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations General Assembly.

I visited those camps when I was in Cracow in September of 2013, and I am shocked to discover that I didn’t post about my visit. I suppose it’s because every time I look at my photos I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I’ll try to do a post later, but let me put up just a few photos that must stand for the eleven million exterminated in this worst of all genocides. Remember that the oft-cited figure of six million Jews represents only a bit more than half of the people murdered en masse by the Nazis: there were eleven million total, including non-Jewish Poles, gays, criminals, Communists, clerics, the mentally ill, gypsies, and so on.

If you’re ever in Cracow, Poland, by all means go to Auschwitz/Birkenau, about sixty miles away. You will see the camps, the remains of the gas chambers, the platform on which prisoners arrived (and were immediately selected for death or for a short, miserable life), the barracks (in original condition at Birkenau), and an immensely disturbing museum. You won’t be the same person after your visit. And no matter how much you’re mentally prepared, it will still hit you in a way you didn’t imagine.

I won’t say anything profound to mark the millions of voiceless victims killed by the Nazis. Others, including the survivors, have done that. Let these pictures speak for themselves:

Here are some items in the museum in Auschwitz. Below are some suitcases taken from those arriving by train, most of them immediately sent to the gas chambers and killed within half an hour after arrival. People were told that their suitcases (carefully marked with their names and often addresses) would be returned after their “shower”. They weren’t, of course: they were plundered. The suitcases on display fill an entire room (there’s also a whole room of hair shaved from women’s heads before they were killed, which was used to fill mattresses, but that’s the one thing you’re not allowed to photograph).


A collection of prosthetic limbs, crutches, braces, and other medical aids taken from those who were gassed. Any infirmity, of course, marked you immediately for the gas chamber.


The shoes of the dead:


The saddest collection: dolls and children’s clothes taken from youngsters who were killed. Nearly everyone under the age of 14 was immediately gassed upon arrival at the Birkenau platform:


Below are some photographs of those who died. When the Nazis began sending people to the camps, they photographed every prisoner who wasn’t immediately killed, making a record of the inmates. The people below were photographed immediately after having their hair shorn and donning prison garb. Their faces tell all. The captions tell you who they were and how long they lived after arrival—usually only a few months at most. (Most either died of disease or malnutrition, or were gassed.) It was only later that the Nazis decided that the photographic system was too cumbersome and began tattooing numbers on the prisoners’ arms. I show only a few of the many photographs on display. Those who were sent to the gas chambers on arrival were not photographed.

Wolf Flaster; arrived at Auschwitz December 12, 1941, died there December 16, 1941:


Herbert Guttman; arrived at Auschwitz November 28, 1941, died there December 18, 1941.


Ryszard Borghard; arrived at Auschwitz April 6, 1941, died there October 10, 1941:


Petroela Welna; arrived at Auschwitz June 17, 1942, died there September 25, 1942. Her hair has been cropped. 


Pinkas Klapper; arrived at Auschwitz February 26, 1942, died there March 17, 1942.


Those eyes will haunt me forever.

Wikipedia has an informative collection of Holocaust-related photographs; just go here and scroll forward through the pictures using the right arrow.

And, showing its sensitivity to the occasion, the BBC’s “Big Questions” site put out this tw**t  yesterday:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.42.55 PMWhat they’re asking here is this: “Isn’t it time for people to quit whining about the Holocaust”? And by “people,” I suspect they mean “Jews,” for a common trope among Arabs—and many Westerners—is that the Jews continually paint themselves as victims by bringing up the Holocaust. Listen to Sir Ben Kinglsey’s message below, particularly the bit beginning at 5:03.

And no, BBC, it will never be time to lay the Holocaust to rest, or either of the World Wars. There is too much about human nature carried along with those memories.