Auschwitz: Class Roots of the Holocaust





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by Hillel Cohen, Workers World

Fifty years ago, Soviet Red Army soldiers liberated Auschwitz and shut down the largest Nazi death factory. More than 1 million Jewish people had been slaughtered in Auschwitz's gas chambers and ovens.

The name Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust—the Nazis’ systematic murder of 6 million Jews.

An international commemoration of the anniversary took place Jan. 26 at the site in Poland, which before liberation had been occupied by the German Nazis. A controversy between the anti-communist government of Poland and several Jewish organizations broke out over the commemoration program.

The issue publicized in the capitalist media centered on whether the commemoration should stress the fact that the overwhelming majority—90 percent—of the Auschwitz victims were Jewish. But the media largely ignored an even greater controversy over the history and meaning of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, fascism and Nazism.

In particular, several bourgeois articles about Auschwitz left out or downplayed some important facts.

The Role of German Capital

Hitler and his generals didn’t build and run the extermination camps alone. These camps included war factories run with inmate slave labor and organized by German capitalists.

The Nazis made the false claim that the big capitalists were Jewish and thus directed their followers’ anger away from the bankers and bosses. Meanwhile, the big bourgeoisie actually funded the Nazis.

The gas-chamber machinery itself also depended on the cooperation of German capital—which organized the rail transport, the construction and the killing machinery. And of course Hitler could not have come to power in the first place without the active support of German bankers and industrialists.

After the war, these same capitalists were allowed to hold or regain their wealth and power in post-war West Germany. They became Washington’s allies against the Soviet Union.

The Role of the USSR

The popular notion is that the U.S. won the war against Nazism after the D-Day invasion. In fact, the Soviet Red Army defeated Nazi Germany in the East, starting with the Battle of Stalingrad.

The U.S. was mostly fighting Japan over colonies in the Pacific—the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Indochina and others. The Normandy invasion and the race to Berlin were organized primarily to prevent the advancing Red Army from totally occupying Germany and all of German-occupied Europe.

Most of the concentration camps and death camps, like Auschwitz, were in the East and were liberated by Red Army troops.

The U.S. Government’s Role

Washington never officially opposed the Hitler regime’s mass arrests of communists and trade unionists, and certainly did nothing to protest the anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in Germany.

There was no economic embargo or diplomatic isolation of Germany before the war. Some U.S. industrialists like Henry Ford actively supported Hitler. Others opposed him only because they were economic rivals of the German capitalists.

U.S. officials actually maneuvered with Britain and France at the Munich talks to try to engineer a Nazi invasion of the USSR. After the U.S. officially entered the war against Germany much later, there was no effort to open up a Western front until the Red Army defeated the Nazi military at Stalingrad.

When the mass extermination of Jews began after 1942, heroic Jewish inmates smuggled out photos and documents to show the world what was going on. Jewish leaders pleaded with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to bomb the railroad tracks used to bring the prisoners to the death camps. He refused.

To the end, the U.S. military never tried to bomb the tracks or the camps, even though it could have saved millions of lives. This clearly wasn’t because of concern about possible civilian deaths; the U.S. did kill hundreds of thousands of civilians when it bombed Dresden, Berlin and other German cities—and, of course, when it dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

The Old Anti-Semitism

After the war, many Nazis were rehabilitated. Few industrialists were ever tried or imprisoned.

Gen. Adolf Heusinger, who had been a Nazi general, became commander of NATO. Nazi judges and thousands of minor officials were left as the base of the post-war West German state.

Werner Von Braun, the inventor of the Nazi buzz bombs used against Britain, was brought to the U.S. with a host of colleagues to form the core of the U.S. missile and space program.

Many Nazis were secretly given safe passage and immigration documents to resettle in the U.S. Others were incorporated into CIA-led anti-Soviet espionage rings in Europe.

Those who were silent during the Nazi drive to exterminate the Jews and mass murders of communists, gays, trade unionists, Gypsies and others are only now speaking up. Fifty years after the fact, Pope John Paul II has just admitted that the Catholic Church hierarchy did nothing and said nothing, and in fact contributed to anti-Semitism in Europe.

The New Anti-Semitism

Neo-Nazi gangs are growing and becoming more active in the united capitalist Germany. Neo-Nazi parties are gaining major strength in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere.

With few Jews left in Germany, the focus of attack is Arab, Turkish and other immigrant workers from Middle-Eastern countries. These Semitic peoples are targets of racist violence and chauvinism supported or condoned by major sections of the bourgeoisie in Europe and the U.S. In a way, the anti-Arab witch hunts in Europe and the U.S. are a new variety of anti-Semitism.

Genocide since the Holocaust

There have been other Holocausts in the past. Millions of Africans were killed in the slave trade. Millions of Native people were killed by Spanish colonialists and later by U.S. colonialists
In the modern era the Nazi imperialists carried out genocide on the largest scale. But there have been other examples of genocide.

These include the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Korean War, the Vietnam war, and the 1965 coup in Indonesia when over a million progressives were slaughtered. Most recently in Iraq, over 300,000 civilians have been killed by bombs or sanctions since the beginning of the Gulf War.

And for 50 years the U.S. government refused to sign the United Nations anti-genocide treaty, primarily because a strict reading of the treaty could have been used to condemn the treatment of African Americans in the U.S.

The anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz should be a time to educate people about the horrors of genocide, and how racism and chauvinism are used to condone genocide. But to stop genocide, imperialism must be ended. Imperialism—the monopoly stage of capitalism—is what gave rise to the Holocaust against the Jews and by its very nature leads to such mass slaughter of peoples.

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