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Paul Vadakumpadan, Guwahati says,
To Auschwitz and Back (Part II)
By Fr Paul Vadakumpadan
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Guwahati, Sep. 26. The recent events in Orissa, Karnataka and elsewhere in the country have made me realise that what I saw at Auschwitz was not just an aberration of history. Fundamentalism, ethnic chauvinism, hatred towards the other, and exploiting human suffering for political gain are as much a fact today as they were in Hitler`s Germany.  

The recent events in Orissa, Karnataka and elsewhere in the country have made me realise that what I saw at Auschwitz was not just an aberration of history. Fundamentalism, ethnic chauvinism, hatred towards the other, and exploiting human suffering for political gain are as much a fact today as they were in Hitler`s Germany.  

That evil man wanted to eliminate Jews, gypsies as well as Polish and Russian prisoners. He chose a Polish village called Oswiecim in 1940 to build his gigantic, horrific factory of death.  This village is not far from Wadovice, the home town of John Paul II. The average number of prisoners at any time was about 15000. In all over a million were killed. The prisoners were mostly Jews brought from different parts of Europe.

At the entrance to the camp we saw the words Arbeit macht frei (work makes free). It was the sorting point. Women, the old, children and those not able to work were separated and destined for elimination. Shoes, spectacles, even pots and kettles which the prisoners had brought with them were taken away. Many of these things are now part of an exhibition. Daily work in the camp started in the morning and ended at night. If anyone died in the place of work, his body had to be brought back. Food for a whole day was something like half of what we generally eat for a single meal. When the camp was liberated in 1945, some 30 year old prisoners still alive weighed less than 23 kilograms.  

The gas chamber was a room with an opening on top. Through that hole, hydrogen cyanide in the form of pebbles was showered down. At 27 degrees the pebbles evaporated and the resulting gas killed all those herded into the overcrowded room, in about 15 to 20 minutes. 5 kilograms were needed to kill 1500 people. 70% of those who died were put to death in this manner. The hair of the condemned was removed. Two tons of hair are exhibited today in the museum. The dead bodies were burnt in a crematorium nearby and the human ashes were used as manure. There were two furnaces in the crematorium. 350 bodies could be burnt daily in each of them.  

We also saw an execution ground with its wall of death. Nearby there are single cells where prisoners were starved to death. In cell no. 18 there is a big candle. It was the cell in which Fr. Maximilian Kolbe died. We now honour him as a canonised saint of the church. The notorious Dr. Josef Mengele carried out his cruel experiments in the camp especially on children.

Rudolf Hoess was the boss of the camp. He was arrested at the end of the war, tried and hanged in the camp itself in 1947. During his trial he revealed much information about the atrocities carried out in it. Other prisoners who survived also provided chilling information on what went on in that factory of death. Presently the Auschwitz museum is maintained by the Polish government. About a million people from 100 countries visit it every year. To date thirty million visitors have passed through its portal.

As we reached the camp, I was looking at the trees surrounding it. I believe they were there also when incredible atrocities were going on around them. They could not do anything about it. Now too they are silent witnesses of the Holocaust. But human beings are not trees. If good men become mute witnesses in the face of evil, bad men will conquer our world. When atrocities take place in our country, it is encouraging to see that there are many people belonging to all communities who protest vehemently, some at considerable risk to themselves. The majority of these men and women are tolerant and broadminded Hindus. That is a sign of hope that India will not go through an Auschwitz experience, despite Narendra Modis and Bajrang Dals.  


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