Concentration Camps

On this day in 1945 the Nazis began to evacuate the Auschwitz concentration camp, ten days later liberated by the advancing Soviet troops. Let’s remember the horrors instituted by blind militarization, homophobia, and nationalism, not least because of my grandfather who was imprisoned for 5 years in Auschwitz and Mauthausen.

According to Jesuit sources (Malachi Martin, The Keys of His Blood) the Nazis “established some 8,500 concentration camps on occupied Polish soil, and organized them into a brutal industry divided into 13 administrative districts. Of the some 18 million Europeans who were imprisoned in concentration camps, some 11 million were killed – of those 3.5 million were Poles, and 7.5 million other nationals”. Why such a high number of Poles? It was a part of the plan that was hatched on January 25, 1940, in “a secret circular” drafted by Hermann Göring. According to Hans Frank (the Governor-general of the General Government of occupied Poland) the circular was a handbook for “making certain that not one Polish man, woman, or child, was left alive to soil the territories now and forever part of the Third Reich“.

Concentration camps were set up for political enemies, prisoners of war, foreigners, criminals, etc. My grandfather spent over five years in Auschwitz and Mauthausen (survived a death march) simply because he was born Polish.

What were concentration camps?

“After 1945 the term concentration camp was almost completely associated with the German dictatorship; the dictionary definition of ‘concentration camp’ in English describes them as German and locates them firmly in the brief twelve years of the Third Reich. This focus on the concentration camp as a German phenomenon entirely distorts the historical reality, not only because it ignores the long history of concentration camps in other geographical locations.

[…] the concentration camp is essentially a product of the First World War and its immediate aftermath. This was the period in which what might be described as a ‘camp culture’ developed, encouraged by the growth of a large camp structure for prisoners-of-war and refugees, but more specifically the camps set up for enemy aliens. These camps concentrated the targeted group, created the physical pattern of future camps, and bred a crude popular culture of exclusion.” Source

What was Auschwitz?

“Auschwitz? That was a real Tower of Babel. But, what does it mean to be Polish? What does it mean to be a Slav? The French wore the same numbers on their forearms, and were beaten all the same, and the Gypsies were beaten even more. We [concentration camp survivors] know something that you cannot, because you could’ve been killed by bombs or soldiers, whereas we were beaten and beaten by wardens and could not be killed, because as long as you have respect for yourself you cannot be killed, only murdered. And if you survive, and continue to have respect for yourself, you will respect others, whether Poles, or French, or some other. We learned in Auschwitz that there is only one difference – a human, and an inhuman.” Maria Kuncewiczowa, in The Phantoms (my translation).

What was it like to be imprisoned inside a concentration camp? Look up Smoke over Birkenau, a first-hand witness account by Seweryna Szmaglewska.


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