Today is the 11th day of the 11th month – Armistice Day. This day is commemorated everyday – the end of WWI. My maternal grand father was a casualty albeit at the very end of that world world conflict.
It is appropriate therefore to reflect on Auschwitz as in 2005 I was one of a 48 person international delegation for The "March of the Living" commemorated the 60th year of the liberation of the Nazi death camps with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressing the 21,000 plus crowd from across the world.
The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem emphasized the purpose of the 'March' as affirmation of life, rather than despondency over the past. The Christian delegation was there to stand beside and illustrate commitment to faith, hope and love.
First hand Auschwitz and Birkenau.
One surprising realization came to my heart yesterday which answered a host of questions which I had not fully understood. This was reaffirmed this evening when we had a presentation of Corrie ten Boom (Susan Sandager) who spoke of the same thing. It was the youthful age of the SS Guards.
Have you noticed “how mature of years” our Australian WWI soldiers looked when leaving home - we've all seen such photographs on mantle pieces in homes over the years - yet for the most part they were just lads.
I recall my cousin Arthur Tronson going off to the 1st Gulf War in the Navy and he was only a pup and yet looked much older in his dress uniform. So too the SS Guards, they looked much older in photographs than they really were.
Our Israeli guide was telling us that most of these SS Guards at these death camps came out of the Hitler Youth movement, they were totally committed to the cause and were in most cases in their early 20's – the Corrie ten Boom presentation spoke of their guards as “teenagers”.
As our Israeli spoke of them as young - this was illustrated and dawned upon me when I noticed the Polish police and soldiers - who are everywhere - they too look so young.
And the young feel as though they are
- indestructible and
- have not the experience of life to think of others in less fortunate positions (empathy needs development) and
- added to this the ideology of utmost and indisputable superiority and their astonishing low view of the Jews as vermin to be totally wiped out.
Little wonder there was a total disregard for human life.
I have since discussed this with several of our international group. Most hadn’t realized this either.
It was brought home again to a number of us again when the customs border guard on the Polish Ukriane border who up close, we noticed was a very young man yet with his uniform and broad brimmed “old soviet style formal hat” looked much older.
My mate of 52 years Peter Scotland (each other’s groomsmen) came with me as Delma did not want to come. I asked Peter to make some comments on the experience.
Now to Peter -
We felt like Jews to the slaughter basically - as we walked very slowly from Auschwitz to Birkenau concentration camps - we were 21,000 people not really knowing what we were doing and not in control of what we were doing.
The Israelis are such bad organizers in some respects - and yet as Jewish people gathered they were happy just to be together. The sense of community is overpowering so starting on time or never didn't seem to matter and yet when the ceremony started - it was professional and Ariel Sharon PM Israel, PM of Poland and PM of Hungary among others all spoke.
The Israeli chief rabbi spoke a very powerful word from the Old Testament which fitted our days of reading of Jeremiah 30, the environment was electric. We stood in Birkenau in the ruins of prisoner buildings (the gas ovens were destroyed and made to look like bomb shelters) and the "voice" kept speaking the names of persons murdered at Auschwitz and their country of origin. (The whole old world eventually gets a mention).
At the ceremony in Krakow on Wednesday night the same list was in progress as we arrived and as we left. It just keeps on and on.
If my math is correct it would take 60 days to read the names of all those murdered only at Auschwitz (4 seconds x 1,300,000). As we filed into the Auschwitz2 / Birkenau site the submachine guns and police and helicopters buzzing was surreal. I suppose Sharon being around exacerbated the situation but the Israelis do very well with security.
Walking with us every 20-50 metres or so was an Israeli plain clothes person with funny bulge along their coat arm. We walked along the road past factories where fit Jewish men worked from the camp. Along the railway line that leads into Birkenau and then splits into two and between is the railway platform where "selection" took place after they came off the train cattle cages.
Josef Mengeler moved a finger to left or right; and right was gas chamber. Almost 100% of women and children went right. Those to the right were dead within 30 minutes depending on volume of arrivals. The chambers killed up to 3,000 human living people each day by gassing.
We walked through the living quarters for those who had to wait or those who worked,13 to a bed space and no heating and fireplaces that did not work. At allies found 835,000 women’s dresses, 35,000 pairs of men’s shoes, and 1,450 kg of female hair left at the site when they arrived. Plus numerous thousands of cans of empty cyclon B gas pellets.
It is remarkable being around the Jewish people and to discover their pain (especially from Christians). We met tho survivors and chatted with them. The dust they were standing on was from cremated dead bodies - they said it was sacred ground.
The buildings are bleak and dark outside and in. We saw the racks upon racks of shoes and so on. I felt physically uncomfortable. In Auschwitz all of those type of buildings were destroyed so you don't see the graphic presence of what was there, only the SS Buildings where they were housed and in these buildings are the museums.
Auschwitz is the sanitized public exhibition of the Holocaust, whereas Majanek is the real thing, mankind gone mad, mankind lost, mankind without a soul.
I’m still having bad dreams. My advice is don't go there. It is a glimpse of hell.
Dr Mark Tronson - a 4 min video
Chairman – Well-Being Australia
Baptist Minister 45 years
- 1984 - Australian cricket team chaplain 17 years (Ret)
- 2001 - Life After Cricket (18 years Ret)
- 2009 - Olympic Ministry Medal – presented by Carl Lewis
- 2019 - The Gutenberg - (ARPA Christian Media premier award)
Gutenberg video - 2min 14sec
Married to Delma for 45 years with 4 children and 6 grand children