A news article, which you can read in full here, claims that, because Israeli students are taken on trips to see Auschwitz in Poland, but not on trips to see the concentration camps in Germany, “a distortion has developed over the years in the presentation and understanding of the Holocaust.”
This quote is from the news article:
The problem is that by focusing on the German extermination camps in Poland, a distortion has developed over the years in the presentation and understanding of the Holocaust. Once the Holocaust is so closely identified with Poland, one loses track of a central fact, that exterminating the Jews was part of the ideology of Nazi Germany, and Poland was merely the physical ground on which this ideology played out.
In addition, many in Israel don’t understand why concentration camps were established in Poland specifically. There are actually two reasons. First, because half of the Jews that the Germans planned to murder, and indeed did murder, lived in Poland.
The second reason relates to the nature of the German occupation of Poland. While Nazi control was exerted in most of Europe through alliances with local fascist regimes, only in Poland did Germany completely dissolve the national government and its institutions. Some of western Poland was directly annexed to the German Reich, while in the rest the “General Government,” led by a German governor, was established. The background taught to Israeli students sometimes ignores the fact that under the direct German occupation some three million Polish non-Jews were imprisoned and killed, mostly from among the intelligentsia and the elite of society.
It’s true: when the Auschwitz main camp was first set up in 1940, in a camp which was formerly a camp for migrant workers, the first inmates were Polish political prisoners who had been imprisoned in a Gestapo prison in Tarnow, Poland, after they were arrested as Resistance fighters, aka illegal combatants. The Auschwitz main camp was not originally set up as an “extermination” camp to murder Jews, but as a camp for political prisoners.
Almost every story, about Auschwitz, that you will ever read, and including stories that you won’t read, tell you that the Auschwitz main camp was formerly a Polish military barracks. That is correct, but before that, in 1916, Auschwitz was a place for migrant workers to live between jobs. The reason for building a camp for migrant workers, in a suburb of the town of Auschwitz, was that Auschwitz was the major railroad hub in Europe. Trains could go, on 44 tracks, to and from Auschwitz, all over Europe, without stopping.
The news article mentions the “occupation of Poland.” O.K. students, it’s time get out the maps and history books, to review the history of Poland and Germany.
The area of Europe, that was inhabited by German tribes in the Middle Ages, became known as the Holy Roman Empire in the year 800. By the year 1270, the Holy Roman Empire had expanded to include the area known as Upper Silesia. In 1270, the Germans set up the town of Auschwitz in what was then German territory.
In 1457, Auschwitz became part of the Kingdom of Poland and the name of the town was changed to the Polish name Oswiecim.
Most of Silesia was annexed to the German state of Prussia in 1742, except for four duchies. The duchy of Auschwitz was annexed to Galicia, a province which was given to Austria when Poland lost its independence in 1772 and the country of Poland was divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria.
Western Galicia soon became known as The Corner of Three Empires: Russia, Prussia and Austria. The town known as Auschwitz, or Oswiecim or Oshpitzin, became a prime location for Jewish traders or merchants during the time that Galicia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
In 1871, Prussia and the other German states, except Austria, united into the country of Germany. After the defeat of Germany and Austria in World War I, Galicia and the industrial area known as Upper Silesia were given to Poland.
In 1939, after the joint conquest of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union, Upper Silesia was annexed into the Greater German Reich, which at that time consisted of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic.
Do you see the country of Poland on the map above? In 1871, the country of Poland did not exist.
The map above shows what happened to Germany after World War I. The Germans were mad as hell, and were not going to take it anymore. Hitler blamed the Jews for causing Germany to lose World War I, and a large part of its territory. Germany had been divided into two parts by the “Danzig Corridor” and the inability to solve this problem was the cause of the start of fighting in Poland in 1939. World War II didn’t start until later, with the invasion of France.
Getting back to the news article, this quote is from the Haaretz newspaper:
So what the Education Ministry ought to do is turn the trip to Poland into a trip to Germany and Poland. First the students should visit the concentration camps in Germany, where they can get an explanation of the overall Nazi policies of oppression, which focused more sharply on the Jews after Kristallnacht in November 1938. There the students can be shown the horrible pictures that were taken by the Allied forces that liberated the camps and discovered survivors who looked like walking skeletons and the bodies of those who had been murdered. There they can also be shown the film that the U.S. Army made when residents of the city of Weimar were taken to nearby Buchenwald to remove the bodies at the camp and bury them. [The film was entitled "Murder Mills." It can be seen on YouTube.]
Weimar, it will be recalled, was the city of Goethe and Schiller, and the looks on the faces of the Germans as they realize the horrors perpetuated by the government that most of them had voted for is the most shocking testimony of what happened when the “land of thinkers and poets,” became “the land of murderers and executioners” (in German this chilling phrase rhymes).
It is true that that German men from Weimar were forced to bury the bodies found at Buchenwald, but there were very few bodies, since the typhus epidemic was almost over at Buchenwald by that time.
The photo above shows German citizens from Weimar being forced to look at a small pile of corpses at Buchenwald.
The photo above shows German citizens from Weimar being forced to look at a wagon load of corpses, while American soldiers lecture them on what was “done in their name.” [Note that this photo is an example of poor developing and printing in the darkroom.]
Here is another quote from the news article:
There is something perverse about the fact that a study tour aimed at presenting the Nazi policy in a direct and powerful way does not bring the students to Germany itself. There, in the camps at Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Sachsenhausen, is where the Nazis’ repressive policies began to take shape. Their objective was not just to imprison those the Nazis considered enemies – Jewish, socialists, communists, clergymen and homosexuals – but to gradually eliminate them physically through slave labor and living conditions that would hasten their deaths.