Every new generation needs another reminder of the fathomless evil of the Nazis, especially now that so many Americans seem to proudly identify with them and their allied white supremacists such as the Ku Klux Klan. As appalling as it was for the Greatest Generation to discover the depravity of the Nazi death camps as they became liberated at the end of World War II, for more recent generations the atrocities are in danger of entering the fog of history.
So I’m grateful to be able to pass on a needed reminder. By coincidence just before a mob of neo-Nazis assaulted Charlottesville, Va. to spread around their poison, I had finished reading a book that was a stark reminder of the depths of Nazi degeneracy. The Trumpets of Jericho: A Tale of the Holocaust by Michael Dolan is a shattering reminder of the millions who were marched, shoved, shot, hanged, starved, worked or hurled to their deaths at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. And of the many others, perhaps even less fortunate, who were kept alive to stoke the crematoria with the corpuses of men, women and children–sometimes members of their own families–who were despised by the Nazis.
It is the story of infants thrown alive into fire pits; of women, children and old people of no use as forced laborers who were cajoled to undress and enter the gas chambers believing they were to receive a cleansing shower; of filthy, rat-infested, unheated hovels where prisoner workers barely existed until, exhausted, starving and near death, they were marched to the gas chambers; of the need for more crematoria because they couldn’t keep up with the gas chambers’ deadly harvest; of bodies piled high in pyramid-like pillars up to the ceiling as the victims climbed on top one another in a futile effort to rise above the gas as it filled the chambers. And hideously more.
The book also tells the near-forgotten story of the Birkenau rebellion, by prisoners who refused to by herded meekly to their deaths. The rebels were members of the Sonderkommando—prisoners who no longer could stomach being forced to persuade new arrivals into the gas chamber and then clear out the bodies for burning in the crematoria. They were aided by prison women working in the camp’s munitions factory who courageously snuck out in their clothing tiny amounts of gunpowder the rebels used to make grenades to blow up the crematoria and punch holes in the camp’s electrified fences. The women, led by a Polish Jew, Roza Robota—now recognized as one of the heros of the Jewish resistance—would have been subjected to immediate execution if caught.
I strongly recommend the book, even for the anti-Nazi protestors in Charlottesville, as vivid reminder that they weren’t just marching against a mob because they were “offensive.” They are a threat, as potentially as real as the storm troopers of Nazi Germany prior to the war. Moreover, I strongly recommend the book to the neo-Nazis, who are either so ignorant of history to not know where they want to lead us or who are so vile that they think they would lead us to a better place. And if President Donald Trump were ever to pick up a book, he should read it too, so that he will come to know the meaning of moral equivalence.
Warning: The following graphics are disturbing.