|The gates of Auscwitz - a Nazi death camp|
By Alan Caruba
The late Israeli scholar and diplomat, Abba Eban, (1915-2002) said, “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”
Similarly, Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else.” In Churchill’s case, he was referring to the U.S. reluctance to become involved in another war in Europe, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 changed that overnight. By 1945, along with our allies, the wars in Europe and Asia were over.
Sixty-seven years ago, on January 27, 1945, elements of the Soviet army came upon the Auschwitz concentration camps to discover a Nazi killing machine, one of several such camps created to exploit forced labor and to systematically kill Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, clerics, prisoners of war, and anyone else deemed an enemy of the Nazi state, right down to children and infants.
A January 25th Agence France-Presse article reported that “One in five young Germans has no idea that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp, a poll released Wednesday showed, two days ahead of Holocaust memorial day. Although 90 percent of those asked did know it was a concentration camp”, the Stern magazine poll revealed “that Auschwitz meant nothing to 21 percent of 18-29 year olds.”
It is essential that people in their respective nations know their own and other’s histories. A hallmark of the former Soviet regime in Russia was the way it rewrote history and, in George Orwell’s classic “1984”, a work of fiction about communism, there was a Ministry of Truth in which history was rewritten.
In the United States, since around the 1960s, strenuous efforts have been made to alter the teaching of the nation’s history. The Founding Fathers are often portrayed as slaveholders to downplay their devotion to liberty.
Even they knew that slavery was an abomination, but their task was to create a new nation, one dedicated to liberty. The U.S. Constitution was approved by twelve state delegations in 1787, but in 1861, barely 74 years later it would take a Civil War to put an end to slavery and another hundred years to end the exclusion of African Americans from access to their full rights under the Constitution.
Several generations of Americans have passed through our school systems—literally controlled by the federal government after the creation of the Department of Education in 1979 after being transferred from the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, a legacy of Jimmy Carter’s single term. All curriculum taught in the schools comes from the DOE thanks to its control over a national, one-size-fits-all testing system introduced with the “No Child Left Behind” program championed by George W. Bush.
To not know about Auschwitz, whether one is German, American, or any other nationality is a failure on a grand scale because it means that it can be repeated. To not know America’s epic struggle to fulfill its promise of liberty leaves new generations at a disadvantage, as in the case of a fifth of young Germans today, ignorant of their nation’s past.
In today’s world, many worry about the fate of Israel, surrounded by hostile nations and openly threatened by an Iran seeking nuclear weapons. Its independence was declared in 1948, barely three years after the end of World War II. Its first task was to absorb, not only the survivors of the Nazi regime throughout Europe, but those who were forced to flee Arab nations in the wake of the war. Its independence was greeted with the first of several wars against it. The general hostility to Jews that preceded the Holocaust by centuries is a stain on humanity.
So there is cause for concern when one in five young Germans have no idea what went on in Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps.
It is a concern when the Syrian dictatorship has already killed 5,000 of its own people to maintain itself.
It is a concern for Iraq, already falling back into an internal conflict after decades of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the end of the U.S. occupation.
It is a concern for an Iranian dictatorship on the cusp of creating its own nuclear weapons.
It is a concern for Venezuela, held in the grip of Hugo Chavez’s dictatorship, an acolyte of Communist Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
It is a concern for Europeans whose political experiment, the European Union, threatens the financial stability of its member nations with the sole exception of Germany.
It is a concern for Americans who witnessed the unilateral limited nuclear disarmament of the nation and the huge reduction of its military power by the Obama administration, less than the lifetime after the end of World War II.
The world remains a dangerous place. That is the lesson of history.
© Alan Caruba, 2012