Recalling the Holocaust

“Counsellor Smirnov: Tell me, Witness, did you yourself see the children being taken to gas chambers?

“Shmaglevskaya: I worked very close to the railway which led to the crematory. Sometimes in the morning I passed near the building the Germans used as a latrine, and from there I could secretly watch the transport. I saw many children among the Jews brought to the concentration camp. Sometimes a family had several children.

“The Tribunal is probably aware of the fact that in front of the crematory they were all sorted out. Women carrying children in their arms or in carriages, or those who had larger children, were sent into the crematory with their children. The children were separated from their parents in front of the crematory and were led separately into gas chambers.

“At that time when the great number of Jews were exterminated in gas chambers, an order was issued that the children were to be thrown into the crematory ovens or the crematory ditches without previous asphyxiation with gas.

“Counsellor Smirnov: How should we understand that? Were they thrown into the ovens alive or were they killed by other means before they were burned?

“Shmaglevskaya: The children were thrown in alive. Their cries could be heard all over the camp.”

The haunting testimony of how the children cried from inside blazing ovens was given by Severina Shmaglevskaya, a Polish woman who had managed to survive the Auschwitz concentration camp from the day she was put there (Oct. 7, 1942) until its liberation in January 1945.

At the Nuremberg trial she described the “selection” process by which some Jews were sent to the labor camp, whereas most – including all women with their children – were taken off to an immediate death. Smirnov was a prosecuting lawyer.

President Barack Obama marked Holocaust Remembrance Day today with a statement honoring the memory of “those who endured the horrors” of the Nazi atrocities during World War II.

The president said the Holocaust calls on all people to renew their commitment to prevent genocide and to confront anti-Semitism and racism “in all its forms.”

It was 65 years ago that hundreds of concentration camps across eastern Europe were liberated by Soviet troops. Several large camps in Germany were liberated by American troops, and the prisoners in Buchenwald, one of the most notorious of the camps, liberated themselves.

At least 11 million Jews, Czechs, Poles, Gypsies, Russians, Germans, gays, Communists and other political prisoners perished in the death camps, with many millions of others also killed by the fascists. Poland lost 25 percent of its population. Over 20 million Soviet citizens were killed in the war and the U.S. lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The Nazi’s “final solution,” which aimed to wipe out the entire Jewish population, succeeded in killing a third of world Jewry.

Israel ground to a halt yesterday as citizens stopped everything they were doing to observe two full minutes of commemorative silence.

Mohammed Barakeh, a member of Parliament and a leader of the Israeli Communist Party, was the only Arab in a contingent of Israeli parliamentarians and government ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, at Auschwitz earlier this year to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. He had been invited to attend by the speaker of the Knesset. Right-wing legislators had lobbied unsuccessfully to have him barred from the commemoration.

Barakeh said his participation at the memorial was not an endorsement of right-wing Israeli officials who might try to use remembrance of the Holocaust to gain support for occupation of Palestinian territories, but an attempt to show “full sympathy with the Jewish people for their suffering in the Holocaust.”

Photo: Flowers placed on a memorial during a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, April 11. (AP/Eckehard Schulz)



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.