2005-01-27

Morning Report: January 27, 1945

Soviets liberate German death camp. This morning, Soviet forces arrived in the Polish town of Oswiecim, about 50 km. west of Cracow, in German-occupied Poland. The town is known in German as Auschwitz. Reports indicate that the Soviets have discovered a massive prison camp - now abandoned by the Germans - which was used for the torture, slave labor, and systematic extermination of prisoners. It appears that the retreating Nazis had attempted to destroy the evidence of their crimes: the Russians have found intact six huge warehouses containing over 800,000 women's dresses and about 350,000 men's suits. Another 29 such warehouses were burned to the ground by the fleeing SS.

Speaking out on murder. The Hungarian-born writer Arthur Koestler, now aged 40, is one of a number of Western activists who have been speaking out against Western complacency and indifference toward the crimes of the Nazi regime. In a column published almost two years ago in the New York Times, Koestler wrote: 'For the common people of Britain, Gestapo and concentration camps have approximately the same degree of reality as the monster of Loch Ness. Atrocity propaganda is helpless against this healthy lack of imagination.' Koestler also writes: 'The other day I met one of the best-known American journalists. He told me that in the course of some recent public opinion survey nine out of ten average American citizens, when asked whether they believed that the Nazis commit atrocities, answered that it was all propaganda lies, and that they didn't believe a word of it.' (Dwork and van Pelt: The Holocaust.)

Death marches from death camps. During the course of the Soviet advance of the past ten days, SS guards at many prison camps have been evacuating prisoners and marching them to their deaths. Alfred Oppenheimer recalls being marched to the region of Blechhammer, where 1,500 Jews were shot. On reaching Blechhammer, the prisoners were taken to a hut to sleep; that night, the huts were set on fire and the prisoners were either shot while fleeing or burned to death. Oppenheimer survived by hiding in the pit of an outhouse. (Martin Gilbert: The Holocaust)

A moral victory? The final defeat of the Nazi regime now appears imminent. The full story of the horrors inflicted on the Jews and other unlucky minorities of Europe may never be known. Dreams Into Lightning pauses to ask readers: How was this allowed to happen at all? Let me refer you to the words of Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long, writing in March 1943 that saving Jews "would take the burden and the curse off Hitler." Long has consistently opposed any humanitarian measures to mitigate the tragedy, even admitting the legal number of refugees. (Dwork & van Pelt)

The final problem. The Allies appear to be within reach of their stated goal of "rescue through victory" in Europe. But even the destruction of the Nazi regime will not resolve certain questions. Why did the world remain indifferent, even as accounts of Nazi atrocities from eyewitnesses reached British and American ears? Will we be able to tell future generations, "We did not know"? Tragically, it appears that thousands and perhaps millions of lives were needlessly lost, simply because of a refusal to believe, or, having achieved some sort of abstract belief, a refusal to act. Even if every house in America and Britain had its own shortwave radio, its own teletype machine, would the outcome of this war have been any different? Or do the blindness and deafness extend into the depths of the human soul?