I am 5 days late acknowledging the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp commemorated at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site on January 27, 2005. (For my money, we don’t use blogging for memorial purposes often enough…despite the fact that it is particularly well suited. What’s better: hundreds standing around a memorial or thousands writing about the event for which it stands?)
According to the Auschwitz Birkenau museum and memorial website:
From 1940 to 1945, the Nazis deported over a million Jews, almost 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and over 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities to Auschwitz. The overwhelming majority of them died in the camp.
On January 27, 1945, soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of Field Marshall Ivan Konev, reached Oświęcim.
As it turned out, on the 27th I was reading Dark Star by Alan Furst. This is historical fiction and I cant vouch for its accuracy. But I can say it gave me a feeling for this historical moment.
Pretty much at random, I selected the following passage from Furst’s novel. I reproduce it here not to endorse its content, but to give you an idea of Fursts talent and the usefulness of Dark Star as a window on the Holocaust.
Szara is the books hero, a Russian journalist and member of the Communist party. In this passage, we find Szara being spirited across the country side by a driver (the operative). Szara has just survived Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when Nazi youth destroyed 101 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish businesses, humiliated Jews in the street, killing 91 of them, and sent some 26,000 people to concentration camps. Kristallnacht is regarded by some as the beginning of the Holocaust.
The operative was no Jew. From his accent Szara guessed he might have origins in Byelorussia, where pogroms had been a way of life for centuries, but the events of 10 November had enraged him. And he swore. His thick hands gripped the wheel in fury and his face was read as a beet and he simple never stopped swearing. Long, foul, vicious Russian curses, the language of a land where the persecutors had always, somehow, remained just beyond the reach of the persecuted, which left you bad words and little else. Eventually, as a gray dawn lightened Berlin and ash drifted gently down on the immaculate streets, they reach the Adlon
By then the operative had said it all, virtually without repeating himself, having covered Hitler, Himmler, Goring, and Heydrich, Nazis, Germans one and all, their wives and children, their grandparents and forebears back to the Teutonic tribes, the weisswurst and hartoffel, dachshunds and schnauzers, pigs and geese, and the very earth upon which Germany stood: urged to sow its fucking self with salt and burn fallow for eternity.
I recommend the rest of Dark Star.
Birkenau museum and memorial website here
More on Kristallnacht here
Furst, Alan. 1991. Dark Star. New York: Random House.
More on Furst here