Auschwitz: Some Reminders

This Monday, January 27, marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We’re constantly being enjoined “never to forget” the significance of this day. Just to remind you of what actually happened on January 27, 1945: the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht, wresting Auschwitz from the Nazis, liberating its inmates in one sense, and “liberating” Poland in a somewhat different one. Recall that it was the Soviet government that, in league with the Nazis, carved up and invaded Poland to start the war in the first place. Had they not done so, there might never have been an Auschwitz. And recall that we then spent the Cold War fighting the government of this same Red Army, which arguably went on to instigate the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and commit genocide in Afghanistan.

So the hard truth is that Auschwitz is at the center of a bunch of very strange and uncomfortable historical ironies. We can’t celebrate its liberation without crediting the Red Army, but in crediting the Red Army, we’re crediting moral monsters almost on par with the Third Reich itself, and partly responsible for Auschwitz. Just to be fully clear: we didn’t liberate Auschwitz, and neither did the Israelis, not that you could figure this out amidst the self-celebration.

People honestly concerned with “remembering Auschwitz” would spend some time reflecting on these historical ironies, not regurgitating Zionist propaganda in Jerusalem, a city (British at the time) that played no significant role in the liberation of Auschwitz. But if you insist on fixating on Israel, you might in the same breath reflect on the predicament of Gaza, and pause on the words of the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

When today they recite ad nauseam “never again,” one should cast one’s eyes honestly to the south and east, only a few kilometers away from the memorial hall at Yad Vashem. There’s no holocaust there, only apartheid. No annihilation, but a systematic brutalization of a nation. Not Auschwitz, but Gaza. How can one ignore this on International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

Maybe it’s because the day in question is not about remembering, but about forgetting.

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