[COLUMN] Auschwitz

Part 2 of 3

(Continued from the previous week…)

It has been 77 years since Auschwitz was liberated from Nazi  Germany by the Russian Army. When the Russians arrived at the camp, they found over 600 corpses and several thousand prisoners still left in the camp. Days earlier, SS guards had rounded up and were herding 60,000 of the prisoners on foot for the Death March in the dead of winter in 1945.

As the SS guards began their retreat at the end of the war, while the Soviet Red Army was closing in, Rudolf Hess and his guards tried to erase evidence by burning as much of it — specially the negatives of photos taken of the prisoners.

Two inmates managed to pull 40,000 negatives from the flames. Warehouses full of the inmates’ worldly possessions were burned to ashes after the guards had sifted through them and had gathered the good stuff for themselves and fled Auschwitz when defeat for the Nazis became imminent.

Back at the Auschwitz Memorial tour, the stark black and white photos of the prisoners along the corridor walls put faces to the numbers.  Each photo staring out of the walls told a tragic story.

The double electrified walls erected around the camp were wrapped in barbed wire. Watch tower guards with machine guns trained at potential escapees were strategically placed in the camp.

Before the walls were erected, a few hundred out of over a million prisoners successfully escaped. A few of these escapees told the story of Auschwitz. It was only after 2 years that Winston Churchill and the rest of the world learned about Nazi Germany’s deep, dark secret.

If one prisoner from a cellblock managed to slip away, prisoners of the whole cellblock was punished in the most brutal way. Bathroom privileges were extremely short. If a prisoner took longer than the time allowed, more punishment was meted out by the prison guards. These guards were recruited among the vile, villainous, sadistic scum of German prisons.

Dr. Josef Mengele, that psychotic freak of a scientist who experimented mostly on children and women prisoners had a laboratory in one building to conduct his ghastly, inhumane experiments. Mengele was manic about wearing pure white, perhaps, to cover for the blackness of his soul — that is — if he had one. Mengele escaped the Soviet invasion of the camp and fled to another county in South America where it is said he drowned in the sea.

Many of those in the higher echelons of Nazi Germany escaped to the South American continent to disappear and become incognito. A few of the guards immigrated to the US never mentioning their military background in Nazi Germany. They raised families and lived quietly below the radar, dying natural deaths and escaping justice here on earth.

Yet though the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, one by one, over the next few decades, with preponderance of evidence of their roles in Auschwitz, many of those responsible for this atrocity were ferreted out to face justice. Most faced death.

I also saw the cellblock of St. Maximilian. Here is a story of saintly heroism many may not have heard of. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary. Of German descent, he was born Raymund Kolbe in Poland. He had a vision of the Virgin Mary when he was 12 that foretold of his martyrdom.

Maximilian had established monasteries in India and Japan. He was taken prisoner by the Nazis for his anti-Nazi stance in his publications and for hiding Jews.  He volunteered to take the place of another prisoner marked for death by starvation, a slow agonizing way of dying, as a deterrent for inmates thinking of escape.

Maximilian took his place because the man had a family. In a starvation bunker, he was taking too long to die that his impatient captors, injected him with a lethal dose of carbolic acid.

St. Maximilian Kolbe is the patron saint of the chemically addicted, of prisoners, of journalists and of pro-lifers. He died a Marian priest to the core of his being until the very end.

For those who are in the demonic clutches of drug addiction during these trying times, pray to St. Maximilian Kolbe for his intercession and assistance to get back to a drug-free and purposeful life. Keep on praying without ceasing for it is true that miracles happen when faith is strong.

Outside in the bright sunlight, we walked and stood where the trains used to stop more than seventy years ago, to unload hundreds of thousands of Jewish families and other casualties of that dark time.

The Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David to mark them off from the Poles, Roma (gypsies) and Soviet prisoners of war that were caught in the Nazi dragnet. The trains that brought the Jews in from many parts of Europe supplied the nearby industrial camp with forced labor.

This was Nazi Germany’s systematic human trafficking and slavery on a conveyor belt in World War II. This was the reason Auschwitz had to be kept a secret from the world.

Picture this. As families disembarked from the rail cars, they were separated and sorted out to fit categories by teams of Nazi doctors. The young, strong ones, both men and women, who can provide slave labor for the Nazi war machinery were prized and stood apart in one line.

The weak, sick, elderly, mothers and young children and the infirm were marked for disposal. Most probably knew in their hearts that it would be the last time they would see each other. They were stripped of their possessions and were later tattooed their prisoner numbers on their left forearms as one would label cattle.

(Final installment  of 3 parts next week…)


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