Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student


Professor reflects upon Holocaust’s importance 65 years later

IDS: Why is Auschwitz the most well-known of the Nazi camps?

AR: Auschwitz was the biggest of the death camps. Elsewhere, one finds labor camps – forced labor camps ... The biggest and most destructive of these was Auschwitz, so over the years, it is true that the name of this camp, rather than the names of most others, has come to the fore as symbolizing Nazi camp destruction.

IDS: Why does visiting the site have such an impact on those who go there even today?

AR: I’ve been there twice. ... It’s not an easy visit. ... Auschwitz actually was the name for a system of 41 camps, all under the name “Auschwitz.”

One of Auschwitz’s camps was a place called Birkenau and Birkenau was just a couple of kilometers away from the main Auschwitz camp, and it was in Birkenau where the gas chambers and the crematoria were located.

And when they fled the place, the Nazis blew those up, but the remains of them are still there, and the remains of the barracks in which so many prisoners were housed were still there.

One also sees ponds of water filled with human ash. And the ash is the remains of people who have been gassed and then cremated and the ash was then dumped into these ponds.

You can walk the grounds of Birkenau and see other relics of that time, including rusty spoons, for instance, that had been given to prisoners for eating. You can look at gallows in which people were hung.

You can see walls against which people were placed and then shot. You can go into prisoners’ cells, which, you know, were big enough maybe for a dog, but not a human being, and people were stuffed into these and just not let out, so they perished in those places after a certain amount of time.

You can find the remains of hospitals in which medical experiments were done on prisoners, and on and on and on.

IDS: Why is it still important for young people today to understand what happened at Auschwitz?

AR: I honestly believe that our first responsibility as human beings is to know the full truth of the world we live in, even if that truth contains unimaginably horrible experiences.

To us today, especially to people of your age, this is “history,” in quotation marks, the past. Why don’t we just let it remain past and forget about it? One, I think we owe a certain debt to the dead, and that is to remember them. ...

All of us have to ask the question, “What is it that arises from time to time that places certain human beings under a death sentence merely for being who they are?”
Anne Frank posed no danger to anyone obviously, nor did the million other Jewish children who were murdered, and yet they were murdered. In the name of what? In the name of an insane ideology.

That generation’s ideology was not the only one to produce insane thinking, and lots and lots of people to do the bidding of such ideological designs.

We’re living in a time now in which we are looking at some really difficult challenges ... 9/11, of course, shows us what can happen when zealots, motivated by the fervor of ideological religious thinking become murderers.

So the Nazi period, for all of its horror, is not just in the past and the Jews, while they were the victims then are not going to be the only victims. If we don’t recognize it for what it was, we’re not going to see it the next time it comes.

So there are some lessons to be learned from the past, if we are wide awake to some of the lessons of the past and look at it in a very sober-minded way.

Get stories like this in your inbox