The Holocaust is a curiosity shop, a fun event for collectors of the weird and wacky. At a recent fair held in Melbourne, replica canisters of Zyklon B were sold. What a great way to prop up your makeshift bar in the pool room!
We forget the Holocaust at our collective peril.
The final solution came into effect with the first mass gassings of Jews. The word “final” was defined by Nazi Reinhard Heydrich as the planned biological destruction of the Jewish race. In Modern Times, historian Paul Johnson traced the operative date for the final solution to April 1942. During the preceding year, Nazi command had experimented with various killing methods. Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Camp A at Auschwitz-Birkenau, had tried shooting but it was too messy. Another tried and failed method was the use of carbon monoxide gas. In her book Eichmann in Jeru-salem, political theorist Hannah Arendt recounted Adolf Eichmann’s testimony on preparations for CO chambers at the death camp Treblinka. In Poland, the gas was in mobile execution vans to kill en masse. Eichmann recalled the horrific screaming of Jews huddled in moving vans as the gas killed them slowly.
In late 1941, Hoess discovered a killing method so efficient it put his mind at rest: Zyklon B. The Nazis issued a massive order for gas to the pest control manufacturer Degesch, whose parent company was I.G. Farben. Johnson records that the company’s dividends doubled from 1942-1944.
The Nazi genocide of Jews was exceptionally shocking for its orderly and premeditated nature. It was a genocide industry. German firms competed for tenders to fit out different parts of the death camps. The killing chambers at Auschwitz were designed to ensure minimum wastage of Zyklon B. There were gas-proof doors with thick glass to prevent Jews breaking through in a last, desperate bid for breath and life. We know how desperate death camp victims were from testimony. The people killed in gas chambers were told they were going to bathe. When the gas started seeping into the room, they screamed and ran for the doors. Dead people were found in heaps leaning against them. Where insufficient gas had been used, Jews were transported to the ovens and burned alive.
The Anti-Defamation Commission condemned the sale of the Zyklon B replicas, describing it as perverse and obscene. But think about the possible manufacturing process. Someone had the idea to produce them. Presumably they were designed, manufactured and sold for profit. At each step of the way, someone could have remembered the horror of what they represent. Did no one remember the millions who died? Do we simply forget the children marched from the trains to the gas chambers because they were too tiny or too weak for slave labour?
Judenrein: to cleanse a place of Jewish blood. It was one of the great joys of Nazi command to declare a place Judenrein.
In the 21st century, laws in civilised countries prevent incitement to harm a person on the basis of religious belief or ethnicity. But violent anti-semitism is on the rise.
The recent attack on a boy wearing a kippah in Germany is significant. He wore the kippah as a social experiment to challenge a Jewish friend’s fear of anti-semitism in Berlin. On the way to the train station, they were allegedly attacked by a man shouting “Jew” in Arabic.
The attack came after a year of increasingly barbarous anti-semitic acts, including the murders of Jewish women Sarah Halimi and Mireille Knoll. Halimi was tortured by Kobili Traore, who reportedly recited the Koran before throwing her out of a window. Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll died after being stabbed several times in the throat. The suspects are 28-year-old Yacine Mihoub and 21-year-old Alex Carrimbacus. The Nation reports that Mihoub served time in prison for sexually molesting the young daughter of Knoll’s care provider. Both suspects blame each other for the killing and Carrimbacus reportedly said that Mihoub yelled “Allah akbar!” during it.
In response to the rise of violent anti-semitism, some have urged Jews not to wear the kippah or display other symbols of faith in public. Germany’s Jewish leader, Josef Schuster, advised people against wearing the kippah for fear of further attacks. In 2016, the head of the Jewish Consistory of Marseilles, Zvi Ammar, also advised Jews not to wear religious dress after a jihadi struck teacher Benjamin Anselem on the yarmulke.
There are many ways to make a people disappear. Genocide is the most violent method, but forcing Jews to hide their faith in the public square is another way to effectively disappear them.
In response to the Berlin attack, Germans of all faiths took to the streets wearing a kippah in solidarity with Jews. Collective solidarity is the right response. We should regard as intolerable any call for Jews to retreat from public life, whether it comes from a place of genuine concern or resurgent anti-semitism.
In the decades since the end of World War II, an endless array of books and treatises were written on Nazism. We want to regard the Nazi regime as exceptional because it creates a comforting sense of distance between humanity and our capacity for inhumanity. But communists killed 100 million people in the past century. Islamists are leading the charge in 21st century genocide. All we know after a century of genocide is that chasing after the ideal of human perfectibility — whether in the image of ideology, the master race or religion — leads us into the valley of death.