Sunday, May 17, 2009

A follow-up to January 27th as Holocaust Memorial Day

As a follow-up to my brief post this past January on Holocaust Memorial Day, so named as it is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops, I thought it would be useful to make note of some of the other camps that would be liberated later in the spring of 1945:
Buchenwald by the Americans on April 11; Bergen-Belsen by the British on April 15; Dachau by the Americans on April 29; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on May 5; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on May 8.
From what I recall, my dad remembers when newsreel footage of the liberated extermination and concentration camps was shown at his community's local movie theater, and still remembers the sense of overwhelming shock at what the footage was showing. There was a sense, from what I gathered, that the Nazis were in the process of committing genocide, but what wasn't quite clear until the liberations and the aftermath was just how bad it really was. It is still a relatively regular occurrence for me to encounter folks who lost relatives to the Holocaust - these days mainly grandparents and great uncles and aunts. Of course it bears repeating that in addition to the raw number of deaths (estimates vary from 11-17 million when Jews, Slavs, Poles, Roma, physically disabled, mentally ill, gay, and political opponents to Nazism are included), but also the sheer volume of mass human displacement and social death that were inflicted.

If one ever wonders why I tend to vehemently oppose eliminationist rhetoric - which is replete with the dehumanization of eliminationists' intended victims, along with the demonization of those deemed political or cultural enemies - one need only understand that I've been influenced by too many personal stories from the victims of genocide and/or their extended families, as well as more books on the topic than I would care to list. What I've learned is that it is crucial to remain aware of the psychological and social conditions that invite the occurrence of genocides, whether within a nation's borders or as a consequence of the process of colonization or warfare. Suffice it to say, I don't suffer genocide deniers glady.

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