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Commentary: REMEMBERING AUSCHWITZ (Satis Shroff)

FREIBURG, this lovely Schwarzwald town, remembers the freedom from Auschwitz on the 27th of January every year with a ceremony at the Historical Kaufhaus located near the cathedral. This year’s guest speaker was the Berliner historian Wolfgang Benz, who spoke about ‘Auschwitz Today: Perspectives of Remembering’ and how 71 years after the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz (Poland) was freed by the US and Allied Forces on January 27,1945.

It is heartening to note that Freiburg’s Israelite Community celebrated its 150th anniversary at the synagogue. The community has experienced changes in its 735 year history. Jews were citizens of this city, and they were driven away from Freiburg. Elie Botbol , the cantor of the Jewish community in Strassbourg (France) was glad ‘to celebrate such an anniversary which no one had dare to hope 75 years earlier.’ The anti-semetic thought has in those days also reached Freiburg and a peaceful coexistence between Germans and Jews was made impossible by the Nazis, and the hatred against Jews was widespread, even in neighbouring countries. Botbol preferred to quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: ‘In order to destroy a folk it suffices to destroy its roots.’

Solzhenitsyn wrote in ‘The Gulag Archipelego:’ "There is nothing that so assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one's own transgressions, errors, mistakes. After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my Captain's shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: 'So were we any better?'"

Even though the Jews were gassed with Zykon B in the many concentration camps—the roots remained intact. And from these roots the Jewish community began to grow thanks to democracy and freedom of speech, movement and religion, which have to be treasured and protected by the Federal State. Freiburg’s Dieter Salomon (Green) said: ‘Jewish life is enriching for the city.’ Representatives of the church were of the opinion that Jews and Christians have to feel like siblings. Religion can enrich the urban-society and avoid barriers.

The historian Heinrich Schwendemann spoke about the Jews from the Middle Ages till today. A lot of documents pertaining to the Jews were collected and destroyed by the Nazis—and the roots almost eliminated.

Irina Katz, the chairman of the Jewish community expressed her joy for the support from the city fathers of Freiburg in times of growing anti-semetism.

Auschwitz lies in Poland today, but it was Hitler’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939 that unleashed World War II. This war lasted five years and a half years, and devastated much of Europe. 55 million people died. The German armies defeated Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia and Greece. They advanced to Stalingrad and just sort of Moscow. They threatened even the Suez Canal. And the worst part of the war was the nazi regime’s commencement in 1942 of the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question.’ The Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps in occupied Poland and murdered---without exception.

In the past these very Jews were honourable citizens of Germany and Austria. They were systematically stripped of all human and civil rights. Thousands were maltreated and deported to concentration camps. Almost all the synagogues and countless Jewish houses and shops were plundered and destroyed and valuables confiscated. The Jewish refugees fled persecution by fleeing abroad.

And today we have refugees from Muslim countries who flee to Germany because Chancellor Merkel has shown that she has learned her lesson from Germany’s history. She has shown civil courage of a special sort and has spoken out for those in need, despite growing protests from pegida, AfD, rightists, and even her own CDU and the sister party CSU (Bavaria). She’s not a fanatic but a lady who upholds the torch of freedom and democracy.



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