Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Historical Perspective

The news, including Al Jazeera and BBC, from NPR to Fox, has focused on Connecticut, just as a short while earlier it focused on Sandy. I lost contact with a dear friend for three weeks as she lived through the evacuation of her lower Manhattan building for the second time in two years. It seems blow follows blow, but from a historians perspective there is something askew. So, I cite the historical analysis below to place these events in perspective. I'm not at all clear on what the relevance is. You are invited to decide that for yourself.

The testimony of S. Szmaglewska, a Polish guard at Auschwitz, about the summer of 1944 taken from the Nuremburg trial record and cited from IRVING GREENBERG, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust,” in AUSCHWITZ: BEGINNING OF A NEW ERA? Reflections on the Holocaust edited by Eva Fleischner (New York; KTAV 1977). The analysis is also Greenberg’s, not mine.

WITNESS:... women carrying children were [always] sent with them to the crematorium. [Children were of no labor value so they were killed. The mothers were sent along, too, because separation might lead to panic, hysteria-which might slow up the destruction process, and this could not be afforded. It was simpler to condemn the mothers too and keep things quiet and smooth.] The children were then torn from their parents outside the crematorium and sent to the gas chambers separately. [At that point, crowding more people into the gas chambers became the most urgent consideration. Separating meant that more children could be packed in separately, or they could he thrown in over the heads of adults once the chamber was packed.] When the extermination of the Jews in the gas chambers was at its height, orders were issued that children were to be thrown straight into the crematorium furnaces, or into a pit near the crematorium, without being gassed first.

SMIRNOV (Russian prosecutor): How am I to understand this? Did they throw them into the fire alive, or did they kill them first.

WITNESS: They threw them in alive. Their screams could be heard at the camp. It is difficult to say how many children were destroyed in this way.

SMIRNOV: Why did they do this?

WITNESS: It's very difficult to say. We don't know whether they wanted to economize on gas, or if it was because there was not enough room in the gas chambers.

A word must be said on the decision to economize on gas. By the summer of 1944, the collapse of the Eastern front meant that the destruction of European Jewry might not be completed before the advancing Allied armies arrived. So Hungarian Jewry was killed at maximum speed - at the rate of up to ten thousand people a day. Priority was given to transports of death over trains with reinforcements and munitions needed for the Wehrmacht. There was no time for selections of the healthy, of young Jews for labor, or even for registering the number of victims. Entire trainloads were marched straight to the gas chambers.

The gas used-Zyklon B, causes death by internal asphyxiation, with damage to the centers of respiration; accompanied by feelings of fear, dizziness, and vomiting. In the chamber, when released, "the gas climbs gradually to the ceiling, forcing the victims to claw and trample upon one another in their struggle to reach upward. Those on the top are the last to succumb.... The corpses are piled one on top of another in an enormous heap.... at the bottom of the pile are babies and children, women and old people.... "

The sheer volume of gas used in the summer of 1944 depleted the gas supply. In addition, the Nazis deemed the costs excessive. Therefore, in that summer, the dosage of gas was halved from twelve boxes to six per gassing. When the concentration of the gas is quite high, death occurs quickly. The decision to cut the dosage in half was to more than double the agony.

How much did it cost to kill a person? The Nazi killing machine was orderly and kept records. The gas was produced by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Schadlingsbekampfung m.b.H. (German Vermin-Combating Corporation, called DEGESCH for short). It was a highly profitable business, which paid dividends of 100 percent to 200 percent per year (100 percent in 1940 and 1941; 200 percent in 1942, 1943) to I. G. Farben, one of the three corporations which owned it.5 The bills for Zyklon B came to 195 kilograms for 97.5 marks = 5 marks per kilogram. Approximately 5.5 kilograms were used on every chamberload, about fifteen hundred people. This means 27.5 marks per fifteen hundred people. With the mark equal to 25 cents, this yields $6.75 per fifteen hundred people, or forty-five hundreths of a cent per person. In the summer of 1944, a Jewish child's life was not worth the two-fifths of a cent it would have cost to put it to death rather than burn it alive.

1 comment:

  1. I just visited the ISAR site. It was running a FrontPageMag.com article, but titled "ISAR News" that suggested that someone who is critical of Israel could not possibly against anti-Semitism. Is it the position of ISAR that opposing Israeli policies or even Zionism generally is the same as anti-Semitism?