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Train of Thought

Of the many kinds of trains exhibited in Birmingham’s Wonderful World of Trains and Planes, in Birmingham, England, the only display in dispute was the model train set of Auschwitz,  noted the Daily Mail.  The photos included in the column certainly verify that the set was painstakingly designed to provide authenticity, was sufficiently informative, and respectfully and tastefully executed.  Although I have visited Auschwitz, I have seen an authentic and replicas of boxcars in other museums, not to mention in newsreels, so I was dismayed to learn that only this one was considered objectionable.

One such objection came from a Holocaust survivor and while my heart goes out to him, this was an important teaching moment that would not be obtained in a classroom or home environment, and must not be obliterated from collective memory. It is not the presentation, but the Holocaust itself that is offensive.  The mass murder of millions of innocent men, women, and children is inconceivably offensive.  The obliteration of human beings by fascists – and now by Islamo-fascists – is severely offensive.  And last year, I was privileged to edit a book of Holocaust survivors’ memoirs that were immensely offensive, but surely not to be dismissed or disregarded.

The visitors from Birmingham and environs elected not to stay at home in front of the telly, or go to the park, or attend a sporting event.  Rather, they chose to visit a museum, to expand their horizons, to see and learn something new.  So, while I respect the wishes and painful memories of the dissenting gentleman and the parents who prefer to keep their children ignorant of this part of human history, this may well have been the last thing ever seen by about one-and-a-half-million children during World War II, and I believe there is much to be gained by viewing the display.

Taking this a step further, if the exhibit were of sailing vessels, I would expect to see crafts of all kinds – those that carried goods and those that carried human cargo, those designed for peacetime and those designed for wartime:

  • The dhow, the traditional sailing and trading vessel, c. 600 BC – 600 AD, invented by Chinese, Arabs or Indians;
  • The vessels of the Polynesians, who were the finest navigators of the time;
  • Ships of the explorers, Vikings, Vasco de Gama, Marco Polo, and Christopher Columbus;
  • Muslim slave ships that brought Africans to Europe and America;
  • The Barbary pirate ships, the menace that attacked ports, captured people for slavery, and plundered merchant ships.
  • The American Navy ships dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to battle the Barbary pirates;
  • The Mississippi River boats and barges that transported slaves through the States;
  • The MS St. Louis, the German ocean liner noted for its 1939 voyage in which her captain, Gustav Schroder, tried to find homes for 915 Jewish refugees who were denied entry to Cuba, the US, and Canada;
  • The First Class, “unsinkable” Titanic luxury liner.
  • Samples of warships, trading vessels, aircraft carriers and submarines, and any other ships noteworthy through our human history.

There will always be those who find something offensive somewhere, particularly when it comes to the Holocaust and persons who would deny its very occurrence.  Nevertheless, the purpose of a museum exhibit is to teach, to engage the mind.  The exhibit has accomplished its mission admirably. I commend the curator and all the museum’s participants for their vision, their talents, and their courage.

An Auschwitz Anniversary

There was some serious irony when U.S. Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew gathered together with French President Francois Hollande and a Russian delegation led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff, along with leaders from Germany and Austria to participate in the January 27 ceremony commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945 by Russian troops.

I suspect that an entire generation or two born after that year, 70 years ago, may have little or no knowledge of what Auschwitz was. It was a Nazi death camp located in Oswiecim, Poland. Its full name was Auschwitz-Birkenau and it is estimated that one million people, mostly Jews, were killed there.

I say “irony” because Auschwitz-Birkenau was part of a system of six Nazi death camps that included Belzac, Chelmo, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka. Each camp was filled with the victims of a widespread anti-Semitism that had existed in Europe for two thousand years, so it was not difficult for the Germans to turn a blind eye or the French and others to provide assistance in rounding up their Jews.

Jews - Nazi starThe camps engaged in large scale murder to fulfil Adolf Hitler’s intention to exterminate every Jew in Europe. In 1933 there had been nine million living in 21 nations that would be occupied during World War II. By 1945, two out of every three European Jews had been killed.

In addition to the Jews, an estimated five million others deemed enemies of the state for political or other reasons such as being Communists, trade unionists, gypsies or homosexuals also died in the camps.

What is rarely acknowledged is that the Europeans of that era were largely educated, had a rich culture of music, literature, and drama, and many were church-goers. In short, you would not have been able to tell them apart from the Europeans of today.

The Nazis wrote the book on the use of terrorism to facilitate their barbaric, murderous theology of death. The Muslims that have moved to Europe have adapted it to their own ends, seeking like the Nazis to become globally dominant. They don’t have death camps—yet—but the widespread and constant slaughter in which they are engaged has a similar feel to it.

In the 1930s those European Jews had few places to which to flee. They were not even that welcome in America where anti-Semitism was widespread. Those that could did emigrate and, again there is irony because several of the German physicists that came to the U.S. were instrumental in the creation of the atomic bomb that ended World War II while others played roles in the Nazi’s defeat during the war. One such emigrant, Albert Einstein, was the first to suggest the creation of the weapon to Franklin Roosevelt.

In response to European anti-Semitism, a movement called Zionism had begun before World War II with the intention of reestablishing Israel as a Jewish state where Jews could be safe. The movement was founded by Theodor Herzl in 1896. Here again there is irony because the movement was dominated by secular Jews who were not motivated by Jewish history or the Torah. What they wanted was to be free of the oppressive antipathy of the nations in which they lived. What they were seeking was emancipation.

By the time World War II occurred they were a force to be recognized in Israel, known at the time as the Palestinian Mandate and run by the British who, as often as not, shared the anti-Semitism that had given life to the Zionist movement. It would take the Holocaust to accelerate the movement of Europe’s surviving Jews to Israel which in 1948 declared its sovereignty and was immediately attacked by the Muslim nations surrounding it.

Fast forward to our times and the Jews of Israel as well as those around the world know one truth. If Iran is permitted to reach a point where it can create its own nuclear weapons and put them on their missiles, Israel will only be minutes away from an extermination that the Iranian leadership and the other Muslim nations of the Middle East have openly called for since Israel came into being and the Islamic Revolution took control of Iran in 1979.

This time, however, the same nuclear weapons that would destroy Israel would also be turned on the United States because the shouts of “Death to America. Death to Israel” are a part of the daily lives of the Iranians, as well as others in the region.

What makes these days so dangerous is that the United States of America is engaged in negotiations with an Iran that has never made a secret of their intention to be a nuclear-armed nation. What makes these days so dangerous is that the President of the United States has barely hidden his own anti-Semitism and animus toward Israel.

One can only pray that seventy years hence some other writer will not be commenting on the second great annihilation of the Jews, literally within the lifetime of people who were alive during the first one. I am one of those people and Auschwitz is not some place that existed a long time ago. It was yesterday.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of Auschwitz death camp survivor Jadwiga Bogucka (maiden name Regulska), 89, registered with camp number 86356, holds a picture of herself from 1944 in Warsaw January 12, 2015. Reuters.