Reflections on the anniversary of the liberation of Dachau…
For eleven centuries, it was just another town.
Founded in what is now southern Germany sometime before the early 800s A.D. (the first documented deed is dated 805), Dachau was home to merchants, farmers, millers, and brewers, like a hundred other towns in Bavaria for 1100 years. In the 1800s, it became known for its artists’ colony.
But all that was to be forgotten when the world learned of what had gone on near this town, in the twelve years from 1933 to 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party ruled the country.
Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, and wasted no time. His new administration immediately established the Sondergerichte, “special courts” to try political opponents. These kangaroo courts had to have a place to put those who would be convicted, so they established concentration camps as well. The new government knew going in that the number of prisons already in place to handle real criminals would be of insufficient size to handle their needs.
The first such camp was opened at Dachau, in March of 1933, less than two months after Hitler assumed power. By the time it was finally liberated, on April 29, 1945, at least 25,000 people died in this camp alone, some 35,000 total in the Dachau camp system.
They died of so many things… of intentional starvation, of the disease that naturally spreads in overcrowded conditions, of murder. Even though this was not one of “the killing camps” – those camps designed specifically for mass murder – Dachau was to be a death sentence for thousands and thousands of people.
A civil society must have prisons; among the foremost duties of any government is to protect its citizens by incarcerating those known to be robbers, rapists, muggers and murderers. The more such crimes that occur, the more prisons must be built (the United States, at present, could do with more, as the revolving doors of our jails are opened like floodgates streaming criminals right back into their communities). Yes, a prison is an unpleasant necessity for any civil society.
But there was nothing civil about the society that the National Socialists intended for Germany in 1933, and their prisons were not built for robbers, rapists, muggers and murderers.
Socialists win political power by demonizing their enemies. They list the problems of the day, as any politician must – addressing poverty, crime, unemployment. But then they add the mild character weaknesses common to all mankind – ethnic bigotry, religious differences, simple jealousy – to that stew. And they ferment the mixture with anxious oratory, with calls to action, with rabble-rousers sprinkled throught the crowds and across the land, to whip up “their people” in a battle against the scapegoats of the day.
There are many names for those they were to demonize. Marx called them the bourgeoisie in the 19th century; Lenin and Stalin added the Kulaks, the small private farmers they were to starve to death by the millions in the 1920s. The modern American Democrat calls them the One Percenters. The Nazis focused on the Jews. But no matter how they identified their victims, in the end, it was the same: identify decent, law-abiding citizens who are perceived to have been a little more successful than your political base – and bring the full force of government and public opinion down upon them.
Dachau was the first place to put these created “enemies.” But it was not big enough for their needs, and satellite camps were built, so Dachau was just the anchor of a network of camps in which to house and torture and kill. Some 200,000 souls went through this group.
Others were far bigger, and even more malicious. Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzik, too many to name. The Nazis built a system of camps, some to house people, some to kill on arrival, some a combination. By the end of WWII, the Nazis had established some 1200 formal camps across Europe, with mass killings – proportional to the size of the camp – in too many of them to count, especially by the end, as the goal of wiping out millions became a driving priority in 1942. Counting even the smallest of them, the number of camps – not prisoners, but camps, large and small – has been estimated as potentially reaching 15,000. Even if their Reich was to fall, sooner rather than later, the Nazis wanted to have killed millions by the end.
A new lexicon was built, to differentiate labor camps from holding camps from extermination camps. New job classes were invented, as wardens made way for the operators of gas chambers and mass crematoriums, and for the perversion of medical science practiced by those who performed experiments on their tragic charges.
How many were killed? Students of the era do not know. The original estimates were in the range of six million. Six million persons, six million individuals. Six million fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, uncles and aunts. Six million... it is impossible for most of us to comprehend, though for a frightful subset of humanity, it was then, and remains, a worthy cause to their twisted minds.
It is not important whether the number is a little high or a little low. The Holocaust deniers (there still are some, despite all evidence) shout that it couldn’t have been that many, and the statisticians sadly posit that it might even have been more. What matters is that it happened, and that it was intentional… and that it was a government that did it… and that this government was popularly elected.
The Soviets killed tens of millions – but then, they were not popularly elected; the Bolsheviks had illegally hijacked a republican revolution to gain power. The Chinese communists killed tens of millions, but they gained power militarily as well. The Nazis have the distinction of being the most deadly killing machine in history with an unassailable claim to popular support – at least at the beginning. No majority of Germans would have reelected Hitler in 1942 when the “final solution” began, but it didn’t matter; they had elected his party a decade earlier when their intentions were clear. If you had asked the average voter “But what about all that stuff about the Jews??” the average voter would have replied “Oh, they don’t mean it; you can’t take that sort of thing literally, you know.”
That is the issue most horrifying to contemplate, because if a western republican electorate can make such a choice once, in one country, it can happen again in another.
Some Germans deny it out of shame, in a flawed attempt to redeem their nationality. Understandable… Some deny it out of a psychological inability to admit to themselves that such evil is possible. That’s understandable, too, but unhelpful; if you don’t admit it can happen, you may blind yourself to the preventable possibility that it can happen again.
And that is the goal of the Ahmedinijads of the world. There are Holocaust deniers who do so specifically to lower the world’s guard, in the hope that they can do it again.
The specifics of the Nazi exterminations are theirs alone, but the general idea of governments killing their own innocent citizens en masse has a long and frightful pedigree. From the Baal-worshiping Carthaginians who fed their own children into a furnace… to the Reign of Terror in 1790s France when seemingly every Parisian turned in a family member in the hope of being spared himself… to the killing fields of Cambodia and the Cultural Revolution of China in the 1970s… The long tradition of malicious rulers violating their trust to kill their own citizens may never be eradicated.
It is hard to write of such times, harder still to read of them. But we must remember that the risk is there, that it still exists, and always will. Some of us grew up in neighborhoods where the reminders were all around us… the numbers on the arm of an elderly shopper in the grocery store, the empty seats at the dinner table, the limp of a friend’s grandparent or aunt, the sadness that comes when you mention your own heritage, and ask a friend to recall his.
But these reminders are now fewer and farther between. It’s been 67 years since the camps were liberated, most of those who survived have gone to their reward by now, and generations to come may not know about it.
As hard as it is to remember these horrors, we must find a way. Not to dwell on the morbid, but to remember that what has happened before, could happen again… that unless restrained, governments can kill. And in particular, socialists kill.
The mass killings of the 20th century were by socialists – the Nazis of Germany, the Bolsheviks of Russia, the Maoists of China. These godless movements imagine their own utopia and take measures to reach it. If merchants can be imagined to be in the way, or Jews, or Christians, or bankers, or executives, just make it a crime to be one, and whip up your partisans into a frenzy. Before you know it, picketing gives way to occupying; civil disobedience gives way to throwing rocks at groups or assaulting the odd target caught unawares. Then the government starts harassing them, through tax department audits and agency investigations and justice department examinations; scrutiny gives way to official raids, fines give way to imprisonment, the isolated execution gives way to genocide.
We see the signs of it today, all over the world, at different stages of the process. In the United States, the communists of ACORN and the SEIU organize outdoor sit-ins to support their leader’s demonization of his many “enemies” – banking on the envy of their base to grow if enough reminders prompt them in the desired direction. Nigerian and Egyptian muslims bomb Christian churches during peaceful services, killing dozens, hundreds, hopefully thousands of churchgoers, as their islamofascist leaders blame their poverty and stagnation on the Copts who’ve lived there peacefully for two millennia, or on the evangelicals who peacefully arrived much more recently. The Iranians, Syrians, and so-called “palestinians” scream for the eradication of Israel, root and branch… calling on their audience to “push the Jews into the sea” in Arabic, then telling us in English to interpret it only figuratively, not literally, as if that should calm our fears.
What lesson can we take – MUST we take – after all these years, and all these experiences, and all these warnings for the future?
Yes, shed a tear for those lost… yes, say a prayer for them and their descendents… of course.
But most importantly, learn from these past horrors, and resist their repetition today. We must elect statesmen who know the difference between real villains and straw men. We must favor policies that use prisons to house real criminals, keeping the lawful citizens safe and free.
But this requires an understanding of right and wrong, a differentiation between good and evil, things that are not taught – or not taught right – in atheist government schools or islamist madrassahs or drug-infested tenements of fatherless truants.
Political evils are, at their core, cultural ills, caused by moral decay. And in a nation of universal suffrage, we must keep these issues in mind not just on election day, but every day. We must look for the telltale signs of politicians and movements headed down the path of Naziism and its cousins, and thwart them at every turn.
It takes both the private sector and the public sector to make a difference, when we think of the evils of the past and say, with conviction and commitment, Never Again!
Copyright 2012 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade lecturer. Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the byline and IR URL are included. Follow me on Facebook or LinkedIn.