Auschwitz – this word represents so much. Not a travel destination, but the acts of cruelty, for the injustice, for the suffering that the NS-regime and its supporters caused so many people in Europe.
5.6 to 6.3 million Jewish people alone were killed, and in addition members of other minorities, political opponents, resisters and people who were sick or handicapped.
As of 1940, Auschwitz I, a former military base, had been used as concentration camp. Initially for incarcerated soldiers, political opponents and criminals.
However, soon Jews from all over Europe were brought here. Since the Nazis destroyed a lot of evidence prior to their departure and the liberation of the camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau, one can only estimate how many people were killed here. Today, the available material suggests that a total of 1.1 – 1.5 million people were murdered here. Testimonies of witnesses, the evaluation of evidence found on site and other indicators and documents saved prior to the destruction suggest for this number to be accurate.
In October 1941 then, the construction of the second camp, the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, a mere 3km away from the first camp, began. At this time, experiments with the murder of humans using gas in Auschwitz I already took place. In 1942 then, one began with the industrial and systematic killing of mostly Jewish people.
1944, after Nazi-Germany invaded Hungary, additional railroad tracks were placed, now leading right into the camp. The construction assured the capacity to transport up to 17.000 Jews from Hungary into the camp, most of whom were sent to the gas chambers immediately.
Thus far the facts. But there is so much more behind those numbers and dates: People, who were first denied their rights and dignity through words. Later, they were systematically deprived, literally, of their perspectives, their possessions, families, human-dignity and ultimately of their lives.
And, of course, there were other humans who did this, with unimaginable cruelties. The first step that led towards the escalation and the genocide of millions of people, were: words.
This realization leads us to the here and now, to today, and reminds us to choose our words carefully: phrases and jokes, made without thinking about their consequences, made by public figures and politicians, for instance in order to gain support and votes in the upcoming election. So, the horrible memories of Auschwitz remind us, more than ever, to not stop to confront ourselves with the history of our country. They remind us to raise our voices and to become active, to position ourselves against exclusion and discrimination, against the dehumanization of humans, independently of their origins or their religion. A relativization, or repetition (even when carrying a different mask) of the crimes conducted during the Third Reich in Germany, cannot ever – not on German ground nor anywhere else in the world – happen again. Renate Weseloh-Klages