January 29, 2005

Auschwitz liberation ceremonies

It's good to remember the past horrors and have a look at the naked cynicism on display at official commemorations such as the Auschwitz one this week.
Russian President Putin's speech really irked me for being sanctimonious. He could have mentioned his own country's past gulags and its contemporary hell-hole Chechnya, where policies, conditions and just sheer horror are not that far removed from the Nazi examples.
And French President Jacques Chirac could have said sorry for the complicity of the Vichy regime and local collaborators in the French police force in the deportations.
But no, all hollow words and faith-based pronouncements for the future and "how it should never happen again, ever".
I visited the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar in 1983. It sure was a very moving experience. More of a work-you-to-death camp than a gas chamber facility, but what really struck me was the huge variety of inmates that were interned there. There were a lot of political prisoners (domestic and from the occupied territories) and Russian POWs, but also other minorities, presumably selected for their work capabilities (the camp was built and maintained entirely by prison labour).

The liberation of the camps at the end of the war spelled the end of the horrors for many a lucky survivor, but I prefer to spare a thought for the homosexual inmates who, due to their contemporary legal status as criminals (paragraph 175, which outlawed gay sex, was still in force), just swapped one prison for another. There was no gay Israel for the pink triangle wearers to emigrate to.

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