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Nov. 8th, 2012 at 11:21 am
I have recently renewed my interest in the Holocaust. I pretty much traumatize myself every few years by immersing in, and re-reading, books about the Holocaust.
This time, something struck me and I want to share it. There were no camps in Belgium, Bulgaria or Denmark. One, Westerbok, in Holland. The other camps were spread around Europe, with, of course, the most in Germany and Poland.
There were actually no Nazi camps in Romania, but they were unnecessary because the Romanians were so glad to get rid of their Jews that they built their own death camps and killed their Jews themselves. (I actually wonder about the dynamic of this because I think this country is where gypsies originated and Hitler exterminated many gypsies in his camps)
Bulgaria managed to save their entire Jewish population, although they handed over the Jews of Thrace and Macedonia without hesitation. I think there are two reasons for Bulgaria’s success: first, Germany attacked Bulgaria late in the war, September 1944. Had Germany been fighting to overcome them in 1941, say, the situation for the Jews might have had a different outcome. Second, (and the few Jews I’ve spoken to about this give Bulgaria no credit, how unfair, I think) the Bulgarians had a strong national pride and considered the Jews as equal citizens and they entered into a national effort to save their Jews. It was a concentrated effort that they were willing to die to practice.
The “something” that struck me as I read is in regard to the question often asked of those who lived near the camps “did you know?” To which, pretty much without fail, the answer is “I had no clue.” Germans and Poles express ignorance and while the Germans now struggle with feelings of national guilt, most “normal citizens” feel they are not responsible.
My conclusion is that the reason the camps in Poland, Germany and Ukraine—Austria and a few other countries as well—were so successful at killing is that the citizens didn’t object, to any great number. They were already anti-Semitic. The Belgians, the Dutch, the Danes, the Bulgarians, not so much. Had Hitler set up a camp like Dachau in Holland, he would have had a huge fight on his hands.
There was cowardice in those countries and treachery, those who cooperated with the Germans. But the national psyche prohibited the all-out effort of the Nazis that was successful in Germany and Poland. I find this damning.
I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with the Holocaust—in particular, the experience of the Jews of Poland and Ukraine, Auschwitz. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I think I must have been there, in spirit. The stories resonate too clearly with me.
I am a coward. I dread physical discomfort and I don’t think I’d hold up well under the fear of torture or the deaths of my family. So I don’t whole condemn those who didn’t help the Jews.
As I’ve read the (honestly) about fifty books I’ve checked out the last month, I have thought about today. I saw a woman in Smith’s the other day who is a Muslim; she was wearing a headscarf and a dress that I’ve seen in pictures on the news. What would I do if suddenly she appeared at my door begging for help and I knew I could be killed for helping her? What if she were an illegal from Mexico? Would I hide an entire family of illegals in my basement for years? Could it happen in America?
People in Europe did exactly that during World War II. More in Holland, Belgium, Denmark, and Bulgaria, but there were some brave souls in Poland and Germany who saved lives.
I’m rambling, but these are things I thought while I re-educated myself and spent late nights reading terrible survival stories. So many life lessons. I can give you guys a reading list if you feel like traumatizing yourself. Quickly, “The Sunflower” by Simon Weisenthal and “When They Came to Take My Father” an anthology are quite wonderful and thought-provoking.