On this day in 1945, the Auschwitz-Birkenau
concentration camp in Poland was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. One of the most notorious camps of Nazi Germany, Jews and others persecuted by the Nazi regime were sent to Auschwitz from 1940 onwards. During its years in operation, over one million people died in Auschwitz, either from murder in the gas chambers or due to starvation and disease. As the war drew to a close and the Nazis steadily lost ground to the Allied forces, they began evacuating the camps and destroying evidence of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed there. The
leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, ordered the evacuation of the
remaining prisoners at the camp as the Soviet Red Army closed in on the area.
Nearly 60,000 prisoners from Auschwitz were forced on a march toward
Wodzisław Śląski (Loslau) where they would be sent to other camps; some
20,000 ended up in the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany. However, thousands
died during the evacuation on the grueling marches, leading to them
being called ‘death marches’. 7,500 weak and sick prisoners remained in
Auschwitz, and they were liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the
Soviet Red Army on January 27th 1945. Auschwitz remains one of the most
powerful symbols of the Holocaust and the horrific crimes committed by
the Nazi regime against Jews and numerous other groups.
Monument in Cemetery, Mt. Williamson, 1943, photo by Ansel Adams
Thousands of Japanese Americans were taken from their homes, rounded up by the US government in 1942 and relocated to internment camps where they remained until the end of World War II in 1945. The photo above was taken at the Manzanar internment camp (the Manzanar War Relocation Center) at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas in California’s Owens Valley. Ansel Adams, already a well-known and successful photographer, went to the camps in 1943 to document what he felt was a great injustice.
I have 8 minutes left before midnight, when Holocaust Remembrance Day will end, so let me tell you the 8 things that I remember most vividly from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
1. The entire museum is suffocating. It’s quiet and somber and can sometimes feel like you’re mourning the loss of all of humanity at once. It feels like a crypt, an urn, where 6 million people are interred.
2. The Holocaust didn’t start with Hitler screaming rabidly about filthy Jews. It started when Hitler slipped dangerous rhetoric into his speeches, blaming crime and unemployment on them.
3. There’s a three-story tall room where every inch of the walls are covered with pictures. Little kids smiling cheesily and older couples sitting next to each other, families. The only thing they have in common? Their lives were exterminated during the Holocaust.
4. A man nicknamed the Angel of Death did medical experiments on children. CHILDREN. He gouged out their leg muscles and introduced life threatening infections just to see how their bodies would react.
5. There’s a boxcar that you’re made to go into on the tour. It’s a real part of a train that transported thousands to death camps. It’s cold and it’s cramped, and the tiny windows don’t give nearly enough light to let you feel relief from the nauseating claustrophobia that creeps on you.
6. There was a children’s transport camp called Terezin, where an art teacher helped the kids express their frustration and terror through their art. They have it hanging on the walls there. It’s normal kid stuff. Butterflies and houses, people performing on stages. Underneath, the name of the child is written, and their date of death. 90℅ of them didn’t make it past 1945.
7. The worst room, by far, are the shoes. It’s a simple exhibit. Both sides of the room have containers simply filled with shoes, old and rotten. It’s not objectively sinister. Until you read the caption and realize that every last shoe came from someone gassed to death. That’s when you start noticing the petite flats and the heavy work shoes, the tiny toddler Mary Janes, faded red. You notice that each shoe had a pair of feet attached, and each pair of feet had a body attached, and each body had a life, a story, a personality, a soul, attached. And you read the poem above, which bitterly notes that the only reason that these shoes weren’t burned with their owner was because they were made of leather and not flesh and blood.
8. You end in a memorial Hall. It’s made of bright marble, and each wall bears the name of a concentration camp. There, you can light a candle. It’s small, it’s insignificant, it does nothing to stop the atrocities committed, but helps. You look above it, and you read: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
The liberation of the concentration camps was a time of celebration for the tens of thousands of prisoners who were incarcerated in them. What people often forget about this time is that the prisoners who were wearing the pink triangle (the Nazis’ way of identifying homosexuals) were sent back to prison to serve out their sentence due to the law known as “Paragraph 175″ which criminalized homosexuality. The time spent in concentration camps did not count towards their sentence. This law wasn’t repealed until 1969.
Robert Collis, an Irish doctor, carrying Zoltan Zinn-Collins, a young child who had just survived the Holocaust. He had been located at Bergen-Belsen where his mother, one of his sisters and his brother had died. His father died in Ravensbruck.
Following the war, Dr. Robert Collis brought five orphans from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Ireland. He adopted Zoltan and his one surviving sister.
Assembly Hall, East Face of the Sierra Nevada, with Monument shown in the bottom picture, Manzanar National Historical Site, California, 2014.
Today marks a day of infamy, the 75th Anniversary of the day the edict “resettling” Japanese heritage people, including those born in the US and thus birthright citizens, living on the West Coast (though not those in Hawaii by and large!) at a series of concentration camps, many of them located in inhospitable environments. The assembly hall, now used as a small museum for the Manzanar National Historical Site, is one of the few structures left standing in the concentration camp in Inyo County established for Japanese heritage residents of the US west coast.
Manzanar is probably the best known of these concentration camps, and it housed mostly Japanese heritage people from Southern California. At the foot of the high Sierra Nevada mountains, the isolated site is a beautiful one to drive by but arid and subject to climatic extremes. Today, as in 1942, most of the land nearby is fallow or used for grazing.
I also really dislike the idea that science is apolitical in general. Literally nothing is apolitical. Even the concept of something being apolitical is political.
Yeah like, literally everything about science is political.
There’s the obvious: funding structures (our money literally comes from the government guys, like i am literally paid by the NSF, which is funded as a part of the federal government), academic hierarchies, the politics of what research areas are in vogue, the politics of who gets the necessary education to even get the chance to work in science, all the issues of certain groups (i.e. white men) being viewed as more intelligent and more competent and more objective/impartial than others.
Did you know that there are things about the human body and it’s tolerances for extreme conditions that we know only because of Nazi experiments on living people in concentration camps? This data is often considered ethical to use because redoing the experiments is so deeply unethical. Tell me how that’s apolitical.
And there’s a lot of the obvious things like literally any study about gender differences in the human brain, or all the drug trials that used non consenting prisoners or black people or women in Puerto Rico because they were considered too risky to do on white people. Or Henrietta Lacks.
And sure, you can say that of course those are issues, but we don’t do that anymore and it’s just biology and medicine, which are messy human fields and not the pure fields like physics and chemistry. But a lot of the development of modern particle physics was driven by the development of nuclear weapons. Modern chemistry runs on the cheap byproducts of the oil industry.
But there’s also the less obviously political. We all carry around implicit, unconscious biases that we pick up from living in society. Most of the time it’s things we don’t even realize. These types of unconscious biases can and do influence how we view data. We may think we’re being objective but the vast majority of sciences carry the same set of biases (because academic science is a monoculture that abhors diversity), so we all end up viewing things in a similar way. And often times those biases have been baked into scientific thought for so long that we can’t even see them anymore, because they have influenced things that are now accepted as facts.
Science isn’t divided between the beautiful elegant process that uncovers facts about the universe and the messy humans who reveal that truth the world. Science is created by the scientists. Without us it wouldn’t exist. And we are inherently political beings.