Auschwitz provides contrasting lessons in that it serves as a stark reminder of what happens when people abandon fundamental principles of civilization—morality, law and respect for the humanity of others—and that the tragedy of concentration camps is only possible in a modern society. A West Virginia University expert on 20th century Europe notes that the German citizens who followed Hitler into the abyss “were not so different from us, and that our potential for crimes against humanity remains.”
WVU experts are available to comment on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Monday’s (Jan. 27) live-stream from the Memorial and Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau beginning at 9:30 in the Shenandoah Room at the Mountainlair. In addition, WVU’s Downtown Library is showcasing a selection of books around Auschwitz and featuring reproduced artwork from the Yad Vashem Art Museum that investigate how survivors reacted to the liberation through art.
“Auschwitz provides contrasting lessons. On the one hand, it serves as a stark reminder of what happens when people abandon fundamental principles of civilization: morality, law and respect for the humanity of others. These evils seem impossible to fathom, or so distant that they appear foreign to us; this also makes them easy to denounce. On the other hand, Auschwitz was only possible in a modern society like our own. Indifference and the hatred of ‘others’ was spread through the media, mass propaganda and schools; railroads were required to transport people from across Europe, and a vast bureaucracy to keep track of them all; murder was justified on the basis of ‘racial science’ and carried out with instruments of industrial technology. With anti-Semitism and xenophobia on the rise, it’s essential to remember that the perpetrators and victims of Auschwitz were not so different from us, and that our potential for crimes against humanity remains.”
“Over the past few years, there has been a seemingly constant increase in anti-Semitic attacks and other hate crimes, despite the promise that we would ‘never forget’ the Holocaust. We have done just that: forget. That forgetting is clear in a survey from April 2018 that shows that 41 percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, don’t know what Auschwitz was. The profound misunderstanding of World War II, Hitler’s rise to power and the number and groups of victims of the Holocaust are all evidence that we all need to work harder to ensure that the next generation knows better—even as we lose the few remaining survivors to time and illness. Every year, there are fewer people to bear direct witness to the events of the Holocaust, so it becomes even more important for all of us to carry their voices forward, to ensure that succeeding generations know, and to keep ‘never forget’ truly present in our minds in the face on ongoing inhumanity. I hope that everyone takes a few moments on January 27, 2020 to contemplate the legacy of the Holocaust, to take a moment to stream the events from Auschwitz, to read a book or watch a film, to learn more.”
“In my class on the Holocaust in Eastern European literature and film, and in my study abroad work in Poland and Czech Republic, I try to bring the reality of the Holocaust home to students who typically have limited knowledge of it. Reading firsthand accounts, reading literary works, watching films produced in the languages of the victims and from the lands most of them called home before the Nazi onslaught—all are key to understanding what victims endured, and how ordinary people across Europe and across the world both allowed the Shoah to happen, and, in some cases, actively fought against it. Hearing from witnesses, as we will be able to do on Monday during the commemoration, makes this distant history come alive in ways we can't afford to miss.”
“On this 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is important to point to the recent rise in violent hate crimes in the United States as evidence that anti-Semitism, among other forms of bigotry, still exists here. However, it is equally important to remember that the most heinous atrocities committed against Jews at Auschwitz were not violations of the law. Rather, they were in full compliance with the policies and directives of the German government. This may seem incomprehensible, but consider how state-sponsored violence aimed at minority groups can seem justified. In the United States, for example, the police have used violence to enforce slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws and to disrupt civil rights protests and arrest peaceful protestors. More recently, the police profession has prioritized law enforcement outputs over community safety outcomes by showing a preference for aggressive tactics that disproportionately harm minority groups. It is conformity then, rather than deviance, that is the source of this violence.”
West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.
CONTACT: Laura Fletcher
Director of Marketing and Communications
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
Call 1.855.WVU.NEWS for the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday.
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.