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Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :
A Nuremberg Lesson:
Torture Scandal Began Far Above "Rotten Apples"
For Your Information:
From the Holocaust Memorial Day Website
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On January 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland. The 60th anniversary is being marked today as Holocaust Memorial Day. This years theme is Survivors and Liberation.
The Nazi holocaust was directed against millions of Jews, workers and communists. People with disabilities, Roma people, and other classes of people whom the Nazi state classed as sub-human, were also murdered en masse. Tens of millions more of the worlds people, particularly those of the Soviet Union who bore the brunt of Hitlers onslaught on the Eastern Front, gave their lives in the titanic struggle to defeat the fascist Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo.
The commander of the Soviet troops who liberated Auschwitz is reported by news agencies as saying today that the world should never forget what his men found there. Major Anatoly Shapiro, now 92, recalled the day, 60 years ago, when he entered Auschwitz. "I saw the faces of the people we liberated they went through hell," he said. "I want to say to all people around the world this should not happen again."
Four years ago, General Vasily Petrenko, who was the youngest general in the Red Army at the time that liberating force reached Auschwitz, said: "I feel it has taken too long for people to talk openly about the Holocaust and I am pleased finally that the world is beginning to recognise what happened."
Placing these two quotations together on this painful occasion, it becomes very clear that the duty of humanity, its obligation to the millions who were simply erased as though they were not human, who were regarded as inimical to the Nazi barbarity portrayed as pure civilisation, is indeed to establish how to prevent further holocausts and bar the way to the final destruction of all human beings hold dear.
In this respect, it is impossible not to face up to the most cruel irony that the same world leaders who are responsible for untold deaths in Iraq just to concentrate on that most topical of major world events and the wanton destruction of this cradle of western civilisation are themselves the ones who wish to head the commemoration of the concentration camp victims and the victims of Nazism as a whole.
Let us just remember the record of the imperialist powers in relation to Nazism and its victims. Before the Second World War, they were the appeasers of Hitler. After it, they were never to carry out the policy of de-Nazification agreed by the allied powers, but instead were to give shelter and succour to the Nazi criminals. Some of todays politicians who are shedding the most public tears over Auschwitz are the ones who want to swear that the world has moved on and that the Nuremberg principles and the Geneva Convention are outdated, and wish to "reform" the United Nations to be an instrument of globalisation to keep in place those nations, peoples and states that stand opposed to their own brand of "civilisation".
It must also remembered, as commentators have pointed out, that while few Holocaust survivors wanted to return to their homes from before the Nazi persecution, the capitalist powers were not willing to take substantial numbers of Jewish "Displaced Persons" (DPs), as the survivors became known. The British government itself only allowed a few thousand refugees to come to this country under a scheme for the "distressed relatives" of Jews who were already in Britain, while 10,000 Jewish and non-Jewish children were admitted. Those who were old enough to work were ruled out, even though tens of thousands of non-Jewish DPs, including Poles, Baltic peoples, Ukrainians and Germans, were recruited for work here.
With the onset of the Cold War, it was even communism, as the so-called "totalitarian" twin of fascism, that the imperialists made the main enemy, and these powers marshalled their political and ideological arsenals against the progress that the worlds peoples had shed their blood to attain.
In the light of the experience of the Nazi Holocaust, it seems even more breathtaking that the British government can speak of justifying "balancing" human rights with "security", of criminalising acts of dissent and so-called "anti-social behaviour", can answer the charge of detaining foreign nationals without trial by devising yet more laws to detain British and foreign nationals alike, can accuse Muslims of separatism and opposing themselves to British values.
It makes even more breathtaking the intervention in, aggression against, and occupation of Iraq, and abuse, torture and killings of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people, under the pretext of wiping out mass terrorism and those forces whom those that are actually destroying civilisation brand as "evil" and even "fascist".
Nor should it be ignored that world imperialism created the conditions for the Holocaust to take place in the 1930s by financing the Nazis and urging and encouraging Hitler to hurl Germany against the socialist Soviet Union.
Let Holocaust Memorial Day be a reminder of the enormity of the crimes against humanity carried out by Nazi fascism, who was responsible for those crimes and who they were directed against. But let it also be a reminder of the fate of those states who seek to impose their will through intervention, aggression and war. Most of all, let it be a reminder that it is the people themselves who must organise themselves as a bulwark against deepest reaction, and who themselves hold the fate of the future of society in their own hands.
On March 21 1933, the Munich Chief of Police, Heinrich Himmler, ordered that a concentration camp be erected at Dachau. According to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Website: "In June 1933, Theodor Eicke was appointed commandant of the concentration camp. He developed an organisational plan and rules with detailed stipulations, which were later to become valid for all concentration camps. Also from Eicke came the division of the concentration camp into two areas, namely the prisoners' camp surrounded by a variety of security facilities and guard towers and the so-called camp command area with administrative buildings and barracks for the SS.
"Later appointed to the position of Inspector for all Concentration Camps, Eicke established the Dachau concentration camp as the model for all other camps and as the murder school for the SS."
The website continues: "The first prisoners were political opponents of the regime, communists, social democrats, trade unionists, also occasionally members of conservative and liberal political parties. The first Jewish prisoners were also sent to the Dachau concentration camp because of their political opposition." We reproduce below an archive article from the forerunner newspaper to The Guardian, with the above headline, dated Tuesday, March 21, 1933.
The President of the Munich police has informed the press that the first concentration camp holding 5,000 political prisoners is to be organised within the next few days near the town of Dachau in Bavaria.
Here, he said, Communists, "Marxists", and Reichsbanner leaders who endangered the security of the State would be kept in custody. It was impossible to find room for them all in the State prisons, nor was it possible to release them. Experience had shown, he said, that the moment they were released they always started their agitation again. If the safety and order of the State were to be guaranteed such measures were inevitable, and they would be carried out without any petty considerations. [Himmlers statement went on to say: "...continual inquiries as to the date of release of individual protective custody prisoners will only hinder the police in their work." WDIE1]
This is the first clear statement hitherto made regarding concentration camps. The extent of the terror may be measured from the size of this Bavarian camp which, one may gather, will be only one of many.
The Munich police president's statement leaves no more doubt whatever that the Socialists and Republicans will be given exactly the same sort of "civic education" as the Communists. It is widely held that the drive against the Socialists will reach its height after the adjournment of the Reichstag next week.
1 Source: "Concentration Camp Dachau, 1933-1945", Editors: Barbara Distel, Ruth Jakusch, Publisher: International Committee of Dachau, 1978
A Nuremberg Lesson:
by Scott Horton*, The Los Angeles Times, 20 January, 2005
"This so-called ill treatment and torture in detention centres, stories of which were spread everywhere among the people, and later by the prisoners who were freed were not, as some assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual prison guards, their deputies, and men who laid violent hands on the detainees."
Most people who hear this quote today assume it was uttered by a senior officer of the Bush administration. Instead, it comes from one of history's greatest mass murderers, Rudolf Hoess, the SS commandant at Auschwitz. Such a confusion demonstrates the depth of the United States' moral dilemma in its treatment of detainees in the war on terror.
In past weeks, we have been treated to a show trial of sorts at Ft. Hood, Texas, starring Cpl. Charles Graner and other low-ranking military figures. The Graner court-martial and the upcoming trial of Pfc. Lynndie England are being hyped as proof of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's explanation for the Abu Ghraib prison tortures: A few "rotten apples" not U.S. policy or those who created it are to blame.
Graner entered a "Nuremberg defence" arguing that he was acting on orders of his superiors. This defence was rejected in Ft. Hood as it was in Nuremberg 60 years ago, when Nazi war criminals were found guilty of crimes against humanity. A misled American public can choose to see in the Graner verdict the proof of the "rotten apples" theory and of the notion that Graner and the others acted on their own initiative. But what it should see is a larger Nuremberg lesson: Those who craft immoral policy deserve the harshest punishment.
Consider the memorandum written by Alberto Gonzales then the president's attorney, now his nominee for attorney general. He wrote that the Geneva Convention was "obsolete" when it came to the war on terror. Gonzales reasoned that our adversaries were not parties to the convention and that the Geneva concept was ill suited to anti-terrorist warfare. In 1941, General-Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the head of Hitler's Wehrmacht, mustered identical arguments against recognizing the Geneva rights of Soviet soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front. Keitel even called Geneva "obsolete", a remark noted by US prosecutors at Nuremberg, who cited it as an aggravating circumstance in seeking, and obtaining, the death penalty. Keitel was executed in 1946.
Keitel's remarks were made in response to a valiant memorandum prepared by German military lawyers who argued that the interests of Germany's soldiers, and the interests of morale and good order, would be served by adhering to the Geneva treaty. Secretary of State Colin Powell, echoing the opinions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US military lawyers, sent Gonzales a letter that hit the same notes.
Rumsfeld and the White House would have us believe that there is no connection between policy documents exploring torture and evasion of the Geneva Convention and the misconduct on the ground in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan misconduct that has produced at least 30 deaths in detention associated with "extreme" interrogation techniques. But the Nuremberg tradition contradicts such a contention.
At Nuremberg, US prosecutors held German officials accountable for the consequences of their policy decisions without offering proof that these decisions were implemented with the knowledge of the policymakers. The existence of the policies and evidence that the conduct contemplated in them occurred was taken as proof enough.
There is no doubt that individuals like Graner and England should be held to account. But where is justice and where are the principles the US proudly advanced at Nuremberg if those in the administration and the military who seem most culpable for the tragedy not only escape punishment but in some cases are slated for promotion?
Next week, the world will commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz. A memorial prayer for the death camp victims will be read at the United Nations. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will attend to acknowledge that the depravities at Auschwitz were not the work of a few "rotten apples" but the responsibility of a nation. Such a courageous assumption of responsibility should provide a model for the United States, which can still act to salvage its tradition and its honour.
* Scott Horton is a New York attorney and a lecturer in international humanitarian law at Columbia University.
UNISON NEWS (27/1/05)
60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, world leaders and holocaust survivors gather in Poland.
Foreign secretary Jack Straw, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Vice President Dick Cheney will join the Israeli and Polish Presidents and survivors in a ceremony at the notorious camp. As will the German President, Horst Köhler.
Up to 1.5 million people died at Auschwitz and Birkenau alone, in the gas chambers or of disease and starvation, before Soviet troops reached the camp on January 27, 1945.
Only 7,000 were still alive. The Nazis had driven most of those who still had strength to walk into the snow on a march toward camps further west.
Six million Jews died in the Nazi camps in total, along with several million others, including Soviet prisoners of war, Roma gypsies, homosexuals, beggars, alcoholics, mentally ill and disabled people and political opponents of the Nazis.
Ceremonies will be held around the world. Britains will be attended by more than 600 survivors from camps and ghettoes, joined by the Queen, Tony Blair and religious leaders.
Many survivors stressed that each new generation needs to be educated about the Holocaust.
"It's very important. You are the last generation that can talk to the survivors; we are every day less," Trudy Spira, who was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 with her family as an 11-year-old from Slovakia, told reporters in Krakow.
"We can give living testimony ... to let the world know, to try to get them to learn even though they don't, so that it doesn't happen again."
"It is right that we remind the world of the horrors of the holocaust and the sufferings of survivors," said UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis. "But reminding and remembering wont be enough unless we remain vigilant and oppose the politics of hatred and bigotry wherever they raise their ugly head."
For Your Information:
Holocaust Memorial Day was first held in January 2001, and has been on 27 January every year since. A different part of the UK has hosted the Holocaust Memorial Day national event each year it has been held in London (2001), Manchester (2002), Edinburgh (2003) and Belfast (2004). In 2005 the national event will return to London.
In addition to the national event, hundreds of events and activities have been held each year across the country to mark the Day and we are hoping to build upon this for Holocaust Memorial Day 2005.
The UKs fifth Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27 January 2005, marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in 1945.
As outlined in the Statements of Purpose and Commitment, Holocaust Memorial Day is about both the past and the present. It is about commemorating and continuing to learn from the events of the Holocaust, and about relating those lessons to the ever-changing world around us.
A theme each year
Since Holocaust Memorial Day began it has focused each year on a theme, highlighting specific topics or concepts and supported in the last three years by a paper examining the issues in some depth. Although people may choose to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in different ways, the yearly theme aims to encourage debate around particular aspects of the Holocaust and help event organisers narrow down what can be an immense and daunting subject.
Holocaust Memorial Day is not a substitute for formal education about the Holocaust. The theme papers do not presume to present a definitive and exhaustive account of events and issues. They are intended to help mark Holocaust Memorial Day by providing a focus through which people can draw on wider materials and then examine the continuing relevance of the Holocaust.
Why look at Survivors and Liberation this year?
As the theme paper states, "The 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps presents one of the greatest opportunities to show our respect for the survivors of Nazi persecution and mass murder, and to listen to what they can tell us about the best and the worst of human behaviour." This year we would like to focus on the survivors and their testimonies so that our society can learn to listen to what they have to say and carry their message forward.
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