Last Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I am embarrassed to admit that I had not realized that. But then, the local media didn’t exactly highlight the news. They were too busy providing weather reports on the blizzard that wasn’t.
In any case, I eventually heard it mentioned somewhere, and over the weekend, C-SPAN carried footage of commemoration services held at the site of the infamous extermination camp in Poland.
It was on Jan. 27, 1945, that Russian troops liberated that hell. But even then, there apparently was sparse attention paid on this side of the Atlantic.
I’ve just read a JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) article that states that “at the time the camp was liberated . . . it was given virtually no press coverage, at least not in the American media.”
It continues: “In fact, while both JTA and The New York Times had written about Auschwitz on multiple occasions in 1944, when relief organizations first began reporting on the atrocities there, neither outlet mentioned the death camp again until months after its liberation. And even those mentions were passing references, with no attention given to the liberation itself.”
I find that mind-boggling. If anyone has evidence to refute it, please let me know. The juxtaposition of Auschwitz and the media called to mind the experience I had when visiting the national Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
It is a place of sorrow and solemnity, but what affected me most was not the wall of photos of the murdered, it was not the railroad car that had transported human cargo to their doom, it was not the thousands of shoes that had been taken from prisoners.
No, what is seared into my memory is the display focusing on the Nazis’ rise to power, and particularly the media’s role: the newsreels, the newspapers, the steady drumbeat — at once both subtle and pounding — recounting a nation’s descent into consummate evil.
It is all there, literally in black and white. The stories, the headlines, the photos of the goose-stepping troops. Was no one outside of Germany paying attention? Was no one inside cognizant of the madness? You may judge those questions to be foolish, but that is what I was thinking as I viewed that exhibit.
It was frightening, this day-to- day news that apparently could be viewed by so many as innocuous.
The overall effect made me ill. I was so shaken, I had to find a bench and sit down.
The memory remains when I think of Auschwitz. And Birkenau, Buchenwald, Dachau, Treblinka, Bergen- Belsen and countless other concentration camps.
And how many were there? Estimates range from 1,200 (the official German Ministry of Justice count) to 15,000 (from the Jewish Virtual Library).
– Karen Zautyk