75 years ago, the Soviet Red Army opened the gates of Auschwitz....
January 27 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz by the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front of the Soviet Red Army (above).
Over 230 Soviet soldiers, including the commander of the 472nd regiment, Col. Siemen Lvovich Besprozvanny, died in combat while liberating the Main Camp, Birkenau, Monowitz, and the city of Oświęcim. The majority of them are buried at the municipal cemetery in Oświęcim.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camp and extermination camp, was actually three camps in one: a prison camp, an extermination camp, and a slave-labour camp. Between 1.1 and 1.5 million people died at Auschwitz; 90 percent of them were Jews. Also among the dead were some 19,000 Roma (Gypsies) who were held at the camp until the Nazis gassed them on July 31, 1944. Anti-Nazi Poles constituted the second largest victim group at Auschwitz, where some 83,000 were killed or died.
Auschwitz has come to symbolize the atrocity that was the Holocaust. It was one of numerous concentration camps set up by the Nazis after they came to power in Germany and in countries they overran during World War 2. The first camp was opened in Germany in March 1933 for political opponents of the regime (Communists, left Social Democrats and trade union organisers).
Anti-Semitism was not confined to Germany. Between 1894 and 1906 France was in turmoil over the Dreyfus Affair when a French Jew serving as a Captain in the French Army was framed on charges of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Tsarist Russia, the right-wing Black Hundreds gangs conducted murderous pogroms against Jews with the connivance and protection of the authorities. The same was true of the Ukraine and Poland. During the Civil War that followed the Great October Socialist Revolution, the anti-Communist Ukrainian leader Pilsudksi was noted for the ferocity of pogroms carried out under his command. Leaders of the Polish Government told Hitler they would welcome anything he could do to rid Poland of Jews.
Communist attitude to anti-Semitism
One national leader alone denounced anti-Semitism. That was Stalin. He had been asked by the US Jewish News Agency about anti-Semitism, and replied on January 12, 1931. It is worth quoting the full text of his reply:
In answer to your inquiry :
National and racial chauvinism is a vestige of the misanthropic customs characteristic of the period of cannibalism. Anti-semitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism.
Anti-semitism is of advantage to the exploiters as a lightning conductor that deflects the blows aimed by the working people at capitalism. Anti-semitism is dangerous for the working people as being a false path that leads them off the right road and lands them in the jungle. Hence Communists, as consistent internationalists, cannot but be irreconcilable, sworn enemies of anti-semitism.
In the U.S.S.R. anti-semitism is punishable with the utmost severity of the law as a phenomenon deeply hostile to the Soviet system. Under U.S.S.R. law active anti-semites are liable to the death penalty.
No other leader made such a definitive, strong and wholly condemnatory statement about anti-Semitism. Few made any statement. As the Nazi violence against Jews intensified, the Soviet paper Pravda republished the statement on November 30, 1936 in an expression of sympathy and solidarity for Hitler’s victims. The opening of the gates of Auschwitz by the Red Army in January 1945 confirmed just how apt Stalin’s use of the word “cannibalism” had been in relation to anti-Semitism.
Seventy-five years on from the liberation of Auschwitz and anti-Semitism is on the rise again. Even in Australia there are a few grubs who periodically crawl out from under whichever rock has given them shelter to heroically daub swastikas on Jewish-related artefacts and sites. But it is Poland which causes the greater concern: since the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice Party took power in 2015, Poland has set about rewriting its story of the Holocaust to evade complicity in the extermination of Jews by Poles who supported and collaborated with Hitler. In 2017, the party reduced the number of times Polish schoolchildren would learn about the Holocaust from three to two and outlawied the description of Auschwitz as “Polish death camps”, making it a criminal offence – reduced, after international backlash, to only a civil offence – to attribute the Nazis’ crimes to the Polish state or nation. The same government follows the standard right-wing objective of making abortions illegal and denying entry to “illegal” migrants and refugees.
Relations between Israel and Poland have deteriorated because of Poland’s actions, but a study by Israel’s Tel Aviv University Kantor Center confirms that anti-Semitic incidents world-wide spike sharply upwards when the Zionist state commits aggression against Palestinians. Zionism is the political ideology that justified the creation of a Jewish homeland at the expense of occupied Palestine, and anti-Zionism is not, and must not, be a cover for anti-Semitism.
Historical memory is a precious thing, yet few Australian schoolchildren leave school with an appreciation of what the world owes to Stalin and the glorious Red Army.