Since I was young enough to walk and talk, I have experienced walking in the steps of the Holocaust. I was born a Brit, in Northern Ireland, a wee lad from Ulster, whose family bleeds Unionist Orange, and whose flag is the Union Jack. I was born in a land that has had conflict and division and bloodshed that goes back five centuries. As a wee boy, just two weeks old, my parents took me to France where they were missionaries. They raised me, not as an Ulster-Scot, but as a Frenchman. I thought I was French, as I spoke French, I went to school as other French children, I read and spoke French, and I played with all my French pals. I had no idea until I was 9, that I was British.
My Exposure To The Holocaust
One of the things that I got to experience as a “French” kid, was living in some pretty historic places, like St. Die, in Alsace-Lorraine. One of the most visited historical sites nearby, is that of the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil, Natzweiler-Struthof. I have vivid memories that are seared into my being, that I cannot shake, and nor do I have a desire to shake them, for these memories, along with the people associated with them, have helped form my character and my values and my beliefs.
My parents used to bring their British, American and Canadian friends (they were all missionaries or NATO service personnel) to come and visit with us, and part of their stay with us was to arrange for a day visit to Natzweiler-Struthof. I remember being as young as four years of age, which would make it 1962, of going there to visit with family and friends. We walked around like tourists, talking and walking as we walked through the grounds of the camp. On one such trip to the camp, my mom and dad took their too friends to see the gas chamber and crematoria.
The reason this visit stands out, is that my family got so consumed with their conversation, that they forgot me and left me behind! I was left sitting on the floor of the gas chamber, and I remember tracing with my tiny fingers the scratches etched by the doomed victims as they struggled to breathe. I was fascinated by the scratches and I can still see them as I speak of them. I remember my mother’s voice calling my name, as she found me still smiling and sitting on the concrete floor. I had not missed them at all, whereas they remembered me when they were halfway across the camp and that I was not with them. It was then that my dad carried me on his shoulders as we walked through the camp. Memories like these and memories of conversations with people who were interned at this camp, were events, people and places that formed me into the man I am today.
Video from Frenchman, Marc Bonnineau, posted on YouTube. If you are bilingual like me, you should be fine with the 32 minute video. It is well made. You can even follow the action if you have limited French language comprehension. Besides, you can turn on the captions in the settings and you get a good English translation. I am amazed at the amount of video on the camp that is available on YouTube.
So today we find that one of the last Nazi trials that we are likely to see has concluded, and the verdict is in, where a Nazi bookkeeper was found guilty and sentence to 4 years in prison for his contribution to the deaths of 300,000 Hungarian Jews. I particularly remember this man, from the 2005 BBC documentary series, Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution, a six part series. This man spoke very matter of fact about his time in the SS, his bookkeeping responsibilities, and he never denied his complicity, and said he did his duty and he never denied the holocaust, and was in fact reminding people that it did indeed happen. I remember remarking when I first viewed this in 2005, “How come this man has never been prosecuted and found guilty of Nazi crimes?” I could not believe it. The video chronicles as he speaks, how he was successful in his working life and personal life after the war and that he never had to hide. He lived a normal life up through his retirement years. And BOOM! This happens! He was charged, tried and found guilty!
What I found amazing was the story that came in the press a few months ago, during the trial, one thing that really struck me, one of the camp survivors, 81 year old woman, came up to Groenig in court and forgave him publicly, which cause a stir across the survivor community. However what this woman did was the right thing. You cannot forgive and hold grudges, even in cases like this. You can forgive. Forgiveness is for your own well being. You can never do anything but emotional and physical harm if you don’t forgive those who injure you emotionally, psychologically and physically. Anger and bitterness kills just as readily as bullets, starvation, and gassing. This woman did this for herself, even though it was a wonderful sight to see and see the response of Groenig when she reached out to him. A very moving and emotional thing.
I am shocked at one level, but not surprised at another level that this even got to trial. I have dealt with Holocaust deniers and they can be brutal. Many make arguments about following orders, and the high calculations for the death toll, from David Irving to Ernst Zundel, who became a famous Holocaust denier in my adopted homeland of Canada. . The gravity of the matter is pretty simple for me.
If Only 1 Died, It Is 1 Too Many
My logical and moral and ethical argument is simple. If only 1 person was targeted for extermination based on their mental capacity, religious or ethnic origin, or their inability to work as a slave, if only 1 person, was targeted in that way, and that person was exterminated, well that is 1 too many! And that is the point.
There would never have been a Holocaust had not the nation of Germany been set up for it, and the people making the decisions seduced the populace and used the classic blame game and scapegoating to split and divide and conquer the nation. The nation’s soul was raped and violated and when the soul of a nation is violated in such a way, everything begins to crumble.
We have no right to point fingers at Germany and the German people. Racism, especially to people of colour, be they Black or Asian or Aboriginal, have a long history of struggle in the Western world. They have been persecuted, victimized, abused, violated to the point of death, simply for being different. We see racism and religious extremism rising again all over the world, and it is as if we have learned nothing from the Holocaust and the Second World War.
As I said, we have no right to point fingers at Germany. Canada had a policy of not letting Jews into Canada. Our own Prime Minister (from the Kitchener, Ontario), the not so “honourable” William Lyon Mackenzie King, who dealt with race riots at Christy Pits (Toronto), and his policies with Japanese Canadians. Most notable of King’s rejection of Jews was the incident of the St. Louis ship that was refused entry into Canada. King’s, Deputy of Immigration, infamously commented in reference to letting Jews from Germany into Canada, “None is too many!”
I read a disturbing Canadian book in 1985, None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948 (Abella & Tropper, 1984). During the rise of Nazism in Europe, tens of thousands of Jews applied to come to Canada but most were denied permission to emigrate. When asked about the number of Jews that should be permitted into Canada, the Deputy Minister of Immigration, Frederick Blair, is reported to have stated, “None is too many” (Abella & Tropper, 1984).
That was the attitude until after the war when the collective consciences of the nations in the Second World War woke up to the horrors of the Holocaust.
1 More Trial, Is Not 1 Too Many
Today’s verdict and sentence reveals that 1 more trial of one frail old Nazi is still worth having, to make the point that these crimes cannot be justified, and that racism of every kind must be opposed and exposed, and those who cause others to be harmed and injured, they incite others to violence, these people must be continually challenged.
Today this verdict was as much a verdict for the future as it was a verdict of the past. On which side of history will you stand?
Episodes of Auschwitz: The Nazis & The Final Solution on YouTube
Part 1: https://youtu.be/6mel-FQWIGY
Part 2 (Multiple parts):
Part 2 [2/5] https://youtu.be/PomRAWCbgpw
Part 2 [3/5] https://youtu.be/MnRCeCiF3BU
Part 2 [4/5] https://youtu.be/266IOBpzWEM
Part 3: https://youtu.be/WqEsZf2MGmY
Part 4: https://youtu.be/J5OA0Uw_Lhs
Part 5: https://youtu.be/-ynilQRvMps
Part 6: https://youtu.be/Jz7bqpciG9Y