Today marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. It was the site of the systematic murder of one and one half million Jews. At its prime, Auschwitz operated as a killing machine perfectly constructed to end up to 2,000 human lives at once. It became the infamous location of “selections,” in which new prisoners – after leaving crowded cattle cars devoid of food or water for days – ran past a Nazi officer who would immediately determine whether they headed to the gas chamber or remained to live through the horror another day.
The horror of Auschwitz can be measured not only through the sheer number of murders that took place, but also through the disgusting precision of the killing machine devised by the Germans. Through their system of ghettos and camps, propaganda and lies, the Germans were able to avert any kind of organized resistance while quietly attempting to liquidate Europe’s Jewish population. The Nazis used the very belongings and assets stolen from the Jews as they were deported to the death camps to finance the entire operation. The Germans didn’t even invest much of their own labor when it came to the murder of the Jews, using sonderkommando units – groups of Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz – to do the work of burning the bodies of gassed Jews. It was a perfect killing machine that ran with minimal German expenditures.
We realize now that the world stood by and watched as a people screamed for help. We realize that we made an unimaginable mistake and we vowed “Never Again.”
The question then, 60 years later, is what have we learned? What has six decades of separation from this horrific event taught us? At this point, it doesn’t look like much. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports that “tens of thousands of civilians have died and well over a million have been driven from their homes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. The victims are mostly from the African groups and the attacks have been perpetrated by a government-supported Arab militia, known as the janjaweed.” Secretary of State Colin Powell has deemed the situation in Darfur to be genocide. How can it be that on this day, 60 years after Auschwitz, the world still faces genocide and sits almost idle?
This brings us to the more penetrating question of whether we can actually learn any lessons from the Holocaust. Obviously, we can learn about the depths of human depravity, but can we learn about how to prevent people from reaching those depths so that the call of “never again” actually rings true? The nature of Holocaust consciousness around the world, but especially in the United States, has been such that the Holocaust has been engrained in the minds of most as the pinnacle of human evil, the absolute worst man can inflict upon his fellow man. It has therefore become a gauge of human evil, which, up to this point, has been unmatched. A genocide like that in Darfur, undertaken by tribal militias, is a significantly less precise killing machine compared to the camps and gas chambers of Nazi Germany. However, it is still genocide. Holocaust comparisons to current acts of genocide lead us down a dangerous road in which governments and society can choose not to take a stand against genocide because “it’s nothing compared to the Holocaust.”
For the sake of humanity, I hope that every act of genocide is measured against the precision and the scope of the Holocaust pales in comparison. But that doesn’t mean that the current crises in our world deserve any less attention.
Sixty years ago, Russian troops stumbled onto the gas chambers at Auschwitz and witnessed firsthand how hate for our fellow man can bring unimaginable atrocity. On this day and always, we must remember and honor those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. But we can no longer use the Holocaust as a measuring stick by which all other atrocities are measured. Genocide is wrong. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. The only way to truly honor the six million murdered is to stand up and fight for morality wherever the value of human life is being debased.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s assistant production manager.