Tag Archives: Holocaust Memorial Day

Before Auschwitz


Before Auschwitz –
Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps
By Kim Wunschmann
Harvard University Press – £33.95

So tomorrow, January 20th, we have President (elect) Donald Trump to look forward to.

He, whose parents were members of America’s Klu Klux Klan organisation, will enter what has to be the most powerful office in the world. An ever increasing, wayward world might I add, in which tyrants and terrorists, deprivation and division, continue to make headlines; while those who kneel at the alter of hedge-fund hypocrisy, continue to succeed in keeping it that way.

It’s as if the populace of the so-called intelligent species, has learnt absolutely nothing.

Nic that is, other than:
a) wholeheartedly know how to turn away when someone else is in need (as in the cold, blooded murder of the MP, Jo Cox – who, as she lay on the ground being to stabbed to death, hordes of people did absolutely nothing because they far were too busy filming her murder on their mobile phones)
b) wholeheartedly embrace the dictum: what’s in it for me?

Just two exceedingly valid reasons why people need to at least be made aware of January 27th, Holocaust Memorial Day, to comprehend an iota of where blatant ignorance can lead. In a word, Trump., in anther word., ISIS., in another (chilling yet infamous) word, Auschwitz.

The world would indeed be wise to take note of Before Auschwitz – Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps, which pioneers the formulaic and prerequisite ideological stance of nationally condoned suffering, barbarity and murder.

The book’s six chapters, Introduction and Conclusion, compellingly unearths the little-known origins of the concentration camp system in the years leading up to the Second World War, and reveals the instrumental role of these extralegal detention centres in the development of Nazi policies towards Jews (and its eventual plans to create a racially pure Third Reich): ”First of all, a historical study of the imprisonment of Jews before 1939 demands an understanding of the period in its own right. The concentration camps of the pre-war era were different from the wartime camps. They had different forms and different functions. Simply to place them into a seemingly linear development of Nazi anti-Jewish policy […] would miss the particularity of the pre-war period. The development that ultimately culminated in genocide on an unprecedented scale was neither preordained nor the direct result of a single man’s long-standing fantasies. Karl Schleunes’s concept of ”the twisted road to Auschwitz” is more apposite, helping us to grasp a process of gradual development in response to outside influences and internal power rivalries, a process that, at each stage, might have pointed to a different destination.”

A different destination indeed, which, from the relative comfort of hindsight, is all too easy say, come to terms with, and ultimately assimilate. But these 235 pages (not including Appendix: SS Ranks and U.S. Army Equivalents, Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements and Index) really ought to shunt hindsight unto the Rose Garden of The White House – for all the world’s media to witness on a regular basis.

If not the Oval Office itself, although, knowing Trump, he’d probably deny the fact that The Holocaust ever took place.

In investigating more than a dozen camps, from Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen to less familiar sites, authoress Kim Wunschmann uncovers a process of terror designed to identify and isolate German Jews, primarily from 1933 to 1939. During this period, shocking accounts of camp life filtered through to the German population, sending the preposterous message that Jews were different from true Germans: they were portrayed as dangerous to associate with and fair game for barbaric acts of intimidation and violence.

The latter of which is rather like Brexit’s reaction to non-Englanders, only on a far bigger, far more criminal level. But hey, it’s still early days.
And tomorrow we have Trump, to look forward to.

As Robert Gellately, author of Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War has written, Before Auschwitz is ”an impressive, well-written study of a little-known chapter in the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Wunschmann has carried out prodigious archival research, unearthing all kinds of interesting and troubling material, particularly on the fate of Jewish citizens who were sent to the camps without trial and held without rights in what the police euphemistically called ‘protective custody.’ Her book will certainly find a wide readership.”

Here’s hoping it will, because it’s outwardly brave, memorably brazen and overtly bodacious.

David Marx


The Final Solution


The Final Solution –
The Fate of the Jews 1933 – 49
By David Cesarani
Macmillan – £30.00

This book grew out of a concern about the discord between, on the one side, evocations of The Holocaust in popular culture, education and its commemoration and, on the other, the revelations by researchers in many disciplines, operating within and outside an academic framework.

Greed not anti-Semitism motivated many people to align themselves with the German occupiers. Jew-hatred became as much a justification for despoliation as a motive.

[…] what survivors offer is a wonderful example of how youthful traumas can be overcome. They show how it is possible to rebuild in one generation what was mercilessly destroyed in the previous one. Inspiring testimony such as this inevitably carries a redemptive message. No matter how unpleasant or unvarnished the content, the age of the speaker, and the courage they show in recalling horrendous times bestows on them a heroic aura. They are envoys from a fearful distant past, bearing a message of hope – that survival and recuperation is possible whatever the odds against them.

The above quotations come from both the Introduction and the Prologue of what is a rather beautiful book.

Now I’m well aware that the word beautiful might be an odd word used to describe such an intrinsically harrowing subject as The Final Solution – but what I mean is: beautiful in the complexity of its extensive research. A research unquestionably brazen yet brave, redemptive yet regal.

All at the same time. From beginning to end.

Indeed, the nigh accepted narrative of humanity’s darkest hour, has – regardless of the trajectory of every telling, of every trauma – yet to be fully understood and perhaps diagnosed as having been understood. In and of itself, this might be deemed a subliminally good thing. A good thing in as much as: would it be wise to fully comprehend the reasoning behind the tragedy of The Holocaust?

To honour the Holocaust and it’s millions of unfortunate victims, is one thing. To analyse the varying mindset(s) of the vile, human machinery behind it, really is quite another. Another, as in a certain psychology or place, I personally don’t want to understand, nor embrace, nor inherit, nor have anything to do with.

After all: ”in 1947 the British were holding more Jews behind barbed wire than the Germans had been in 1937.” While a mere few weeks off 2017, the despicable Islamist movement, Hamas, still crave to annihilate the State of Israel from that of the face of the earth. This is why David Cesarani’s ”sweeping reappraisal challenges accepted explanations for the anti-Jewish politics of Nazi Germany and the inevitability of the ‘Final Solution.”’ Although what accounts for The Final Solution – The Fate of the Jews 1933 – 49 being such an intelligent and really important read, is the vastness of political, historical and essentially German social terrain, it covers.

In essence, no stone is left un-turned and it is this quintessential quality which accounts for the book’s seismic shift of historical, and to a certain degree, Third-Reich-theological parameters of persuasion: ”Hitler’s route to power was paved by idealism, the desire for strong communities, and love of Germany. For some Germans anti-Semitism helped to define the nation and the community, with Jews embodying everything that was false, corrupt, alien and wrong. But Hitler was not made Chancellor of Germany because of anti-Semitism” (Prologue).

Internationally recognised as one of this generation’s leading Jewish and Holocaust scholars, Cesarani has herein written a book that is simply outstanding in its seemingly endless scope of portrayal. For instance, he disputes the iconic role of railways, deportation trains and even that of Auschwitz itself, and reveals that plunder was more a cause of anti-Jewish feeling than a consequence of it.

No-where was such a cacophonous calamity of all these disputes on display than during the initial outbreak of the war in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland – literally high on hate. The all-consuming, barbaric consequences of which, Cesarani adroitly addresses in the book’s fourth chapter, ‘War – 1939-1941’: ”The army that prepared to invade Poland was primed to blame the Jews for causing war in the first place. It was imbued with animosity towards Jews, with a particular asperity reserved for the Ostjuden or eastern Jews who had featured so largely in pre-war hate literature. In the figure of the Ostjude anti-Jewish prejudice melded with anti-Polish prejudice. Young Germans had been filled with a spirit of revenge against the Poles who allegedly oppressed their countrymen in the lands taken away in 1918-19. Youths were taught to despise Polish society for its mediocre living standards and supposed cultural backwardness. This was a poisonous combination that lent itself to brutality even before the fighting men had experienced the shock of combat and the loss of comrades […]. The invasion of Poland was not going to be an ordinary military campaign, either. In a clandestine briefing of the senior military leadership at Berchtesgaden on 22 August, Hitler had summed up the goal as ‘Annihilation of Poland.”

Amid the calculated cloak of such ravenous German mendacity, the above almost speaks for itself; but from a sheer writing perspective, said chapter, along with The Final Solution as a whole, is profoundly authoritative.

An alarmingly trust-worthy read, although occasionally disturbing, this book remains undeniably focused in its complexity and fortitude. Each of its 796 pages (excluding Maps, List of Illustrations, Acknowledgements, Introduction, Glossary, Bibliography, Notes and Index) remain unsurprisingly resolute in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the (soul destroying) truth.

Is it any wonder David Cesarani, who died in 2015, was awarded an OBE for his work in the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK – while serving on the country’s delegation to the International Task Force for Holocaust Remembrance, Education and Research?

If it were to be recommended that all those who voted for President Elect, Donald Trump, were to read just one book, then this should be it.

David Marx