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Thursday, April 11, 2013

I Remember: 68th Anniversary

I began today realizing that it was an important anniversary: my parents were celebrating 31 years of marriage.  Bully for them.  What I didn't realize until partway through today was that it was also the 68th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.  

Situated just a few miles from the city of Weimar, Buchenwald was first used to house male prisoners in 1937. Following Kristallnacht in 1938, nearly 10,000 Jewish men were sent to the camp.  In 1941, the Nazis started performing involuntary medical experiments on the prisoners.  One procedure was even claimed to cure homosexuality. 

Once the war was in force, Buchenwald and other concentration camps became an important source of forced labor.  Prisoners worked in munition factories, quarries and freight yards among other places.  They were tortured.  They were starved.  They were hung, shot and burned.  There were nearly 110,00 prisoners at Buchenwald when the camp was liberated on April 11th, 1945.  And countless hundreds had lost their lives inside the barbed-wire trimmed walls.  

This past Monday, April 8th, was Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I marked the day and remembered.  I remember as an eighth grader reading The Diary of Anne Frank and then visiting the United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.  I remember being so flooded with literature and history units that year that my entire class was nearly completely desensitized.  The images on the walls of the museum were moving, but I could do no more than walk past them, staring blankly. 

Holocaust Memorial Berlin, Germany

 I remember walking through the gates of Buchenwald as a college student, past the wrought iron that read "jedem das seine" and thinking "'To each his own.'  To each his own...what?  Misery? Faith? Hope? Life?  Death?"  Why didn't this gate lie like so many of the others; taunting prisoners by telling them that their hard work would set them free?  I remember the way they had knocked down several sets of barracks, marked their foundations and then filled each one with a different type of gravel. I remember the ovens that still stood in one of the buildings.  I remember standing out in the yard of the camp, and how silent it was.  The entire camp was surrounded by forest but it was as if the trees didn't move.  I remember how the dangling earrings I'd worn that day made more noise than anything else outside as I walked.  I put them in my pocket instead.

I remember hearing about General Patton and how irate he was that the people of Weimar ignored the unjust and inhumane presence of this camp.  He simply could not conceive that those people could not know.  He trooped hundreds of them through the gate and showed them the people they had turned their backs on.  I feel like I know how Patton felt, in a way.  That complete sense of bewilderment that comes when you think about crematoriums and months and months of constant starvation and abuse. The rage mixed with a silent, numbing sensation that seems to shut down all other thoughts.   How could human beings do such a thing to a living being?  How could they not care?  How could they carry out these insane orders and continue to laugh and eat and live?  How does treating humans like animals solve anything?  Why is it necessary to debase your prisoners to the point of complete physical and psychological ruin?  How did Elie Wiesel or any of the prisoners at Buchenwald survive long enough to be liberated?  

If nothing else, remember.  Remember the people who died and the people who suffered and lived.  Remember the horrible and inhumane lengths that humans took to control other humans.  Remember.  But do not forget.

Both the Jewish Virtual Library and the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team have very informative websites if you are interested.


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