THE HELL OF TREBLINKA - Vasily Grossman
Fascism does not start with extermination or death camps but the ideological core of its dictatorial beliefs in racial supremacy - combined with a totalitarian one-party government system that allows no dissent - will, if not defeated, inevitably lead to the creation of such horrendous institutions.
It was the discovery of Nazi concentration camps towards the end of WWII that revealed the true horror of the Holocaust, the genocide by which Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists, aided by its collaborators, systematically murdered in excess of six million European Jews and hundreds of thousands of its political opponents, disabled people, lesbians and gay men as well others such as Romany people who it viewed as inferior or a threat.
The Treblinka, built in occupied Poland, was one of many extermination camps. An estimated 700,000 plus Jewish people were, between July 1942 and October 1943, slaughtered there in its
gas chambers as part of what the Nazi regime referred to as the Final Solution.
The decision to abruptly bring to an end a highly efficient operation in which thousands were killed daily was the result of continuing victories on the Eastern Front by the Soviet Union Red Army, which, with the loss of 11 million soldiers, had from 1941 onwards born the brunt of the Nazi war machine.
Faced with the possibility of the whole world getting to know what they had been doing, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the paramilitary organisation the SS, arrived at the camp in early 1943. Like Hitler, Himmler was a fervent anti-Semite and he stood for sometime admiring the outcome of his instructions by looking down on the corpses of thousands of innocent people that were on open display in giant pits. Before he left he made it clear that from now on all those that were killed - plus those who had already gone, all slaughtered within hours of their arrival - should be burnt. He wanted rid of all the evidence.
Huge furnaces were constructed to create giant grill pits where the heat was often so intense that those who threw the dead bodies into the flames were themselves overcome by the fumes and fell to their deaths. Some preferred to commit suicide rather than be consumed by their guilt in the whole horrendous exercise.
But how do we know this? It is because despite the Germans successfully blowing up Treblinka, but only after they were unable to successfully suppress and prevent the escape of at least some of the condemned prisoners in August 1943, the Red Army entered the well hidden camp.
Accompanying the fighters was journalist Vasily Grossman. He systematically researched what had happened there through his own observations, reading documents that had survived and by speaking and arranging interviews with survivors, local people and those involved, in all sorts of ways, in the processes that resulted in the mass murder of so many people.
It is difficult to come to terms with the brutality that is described in this short book of 60 pages. What is also difficult to comprehend is the subtle methods that were devised by the fascist regime to hoodwink people such that the large majority only comprehended that they were being led to their deaths in the final few minutes of their lives.
That was not though always the case and the book contains descriptions of some heroic acts of co-ordinated resistance amongst prisoners who had survived being killed on arrival at Treblinka because they had special skills to minister to the Germans’ everyday needs.
There are also numerous small individual acts of humanity portrayed such as dying mothers trying to give some small relief in the last few moments of their own lives to their children as they lay next to one another gasping for breath in the gas chambers where the death process took from ten to twenty-five minutes. Sadly, we will never know many of the names of those who fought so bravely. But the eventual defeat of fascism in 1945 was as much a victory for them as those that survived.
This is not an easy book, but EVERY HUMAN BEING SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.
Death to fascism.
WHAT IS FASCISM?
Under fascism all forms of democracy including autonomous workers organisations are annihilated.
A state control system is then created at preventing fascism ever being overthrown. Individual identity is crushed insofar as the individual simply exists to serve the interests of the state.
Fascism began as a movement at the start of the twentieth century in response to rapid social upheaval, the slaughter of millions in World War One and the 1917 Russian revolution.
Fascism glorifies the nation and/or race as transcending all other loyalties. Myths of national or racial rebirth are emphasised following periods of decline or destruction. Fascism thus aims to destroy ‘outside’ or ‘alien’ forces that threaten the nation and/or race.
Fascism thus generally promotes racial and male supremacy doctrines and ethnic persecution and it also has a history of genocide and imperialist expansion.
As fascism seeks to gain power its political approach is twofold. It is populist, seeking to activate the 'whole people' against perceived enemies, such as Jewish people, or oppressors. It is also elitist, whereby ‘the peoples will’ is embodied in a select group, or more generally in one supreme leader and from whom authority proceeds downward. As such fascism is not only about superiority between races but within races.
Fascism is hostile to socialism, liberalism and conservatism, whilst adopting concepts from all three.
Fascism rejects class struggle and workers internationalism on the grounds that they threaten national or racial unity. Fascism does though frequently exploit genuine grievances against capitalists and landowners by developing radical sounding conspiracy theories and ethnic scapegoating.
Although fascism may use Parliamentary methods to try and gain power it rejects political pluralism and representative government. Fascism can clash with conservatives, who are attached to tradition based institutions, and yet fascism generally romanticises the past in order to promote or provide inspiration for national rebirth.
Fascism’s relationship with established elites can be complex. In general, fascism defends and promotes capitalism but it can also seek to exploit differences within the ruling class as it seeks to subsume capitalism under the umbrella of the nation state. Cooperation, competition and interaction between fascism and other right wing groups has produced hybrid movements and regimes.
Examples of fascist regimes from the past are Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and Italy under Benito Mussolini. Both men destroyed the trade union movement as they moved to take complete control of society. In Britain, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, the National Front, British National Party and English Defence League have sought to develop support for fascism.