There is absolutely no event in recent history — no massacre, no genocide and no mass murder — that even begins to compare to the obscenity, the cruelness, the wretchedness, the inhumanity that was the Holocaust. Nothing will hopefully ever compare, or be “elevated,” to the meticulously state-planned, systematically executed persecution and extermination of six million human beings — Jews — by the Nazis and their collaborators.
Having said that — and having had 124 of my ancestral family members gassed or murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz, Sobibor and elsewhere — I can state without hesitation or apology that the images of the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of innocent men, women and children horrifically gassed in Syria bring back memories of the stories told by relatives, friends and others of, yes, the Holocaust.
That is why “Syria” reminded me of how one of my relatives happened to be on the last train to Auschwitz, exactly 69 years ago yesterday, and wrote about it.
That’s why I was reminded of “Syria” when I read today that:
The presidents of Germany and France on Wednesday joined hands with a survivor of the Nazis’ worst atrocity on French soil in a historic moment of reconciliation.
On a day laden with symbolism, President Joachim Gauck became the first German leader to visit Oradour-sur-Glane, a village in west-central France where SS troops massacred 642 people on June 10, 1944.
And, in turn, that is why I was reminded of a trip to France my wife and I made three years ago and visited Orador-sur-Glane.
Upon my return from France, I wrote about “the numerous monuments and memorials the French people have dedicated to the World War II Allied heroes who gave their lives to help liberate France — expressions of gratitude to and respect for the Allied Forces of that war, especially towards Americans, seemingly not in sync with past and recent discords and differences between our two countries.”
And also about…
The monuments [that] memorialize the participation of the Free French Forces during the Normandy invasion, their major role in “Operation Dragoon” — the Allied invasion in Southern France — and how the French forces went on to score great military successes in North Africa, Italy, Elba and elsewhere. Finally, how, in 1945, ten divisions of an eventual 1,250,000-strong Forces Françaises Libres (Free French Forces) bravely fought the Nazis in Brittany, in Alsace, in the Alps and finally in the Nazis’ own Vaterland. By the end of World War II France would have suffered nearly one quarter of a million military casualties.
But, I said, “by far the most poignant memorial, the most tragic reminder of the heavy price paid by French civilians — innocent men, women and children — during World War II is not a monument, not a plaque, but rather the charred ruins of what had once been a quiet, pleasant town in the French Limousine.”
This is what I wrote and this is why “Syria” reminds me of Oradour-sur-Glane:
We visited what is left of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane and tried to fathom the hell some 642 innocent French men, women and children experienced at the hands of the Nazis on a nice summer day back in 1944.
We tried to imagine how on June 10, 1944, some 200 French men were corralled into barns and other structures and machine-gunned by Waffen SS troops in cold blood. Those who survived the initial fusillade — the wounded and a few unscathed ones, pretending to be dead — were searched for among the bodies, chased out of hiding places and systematically murdered, given the coup-de-grace or burned to death.
We tried to comprehend, impossible as it is, why the same group of Nazi thugs herded 247 women, many carrying their babies in their arms or pushing them in baby carriages, 205 babies — the youngest only a week old — and school children into the town’s church, where they crouched in terror, awaiting the unspeakable massacre that followed: an orgy of wanton terror that left all 452 innocent, helpless human beings butchered and burned to death.
We tried to think why such unspeakable horrors happened. Perhaps because the French Resistance was intensifying its attacks on German troops as they were making their way to the Normandy front. Perhaps because the Resistance had blown up a railway bridge at St. Junien, a small town a few miles from Oradour, killing two German soldiers and taking one prisoner.
Oradour was not the only place where such “ruthlessness and rigor” were employed, where the French paid dearly for assisting the Resistance or just for being French. There were many more horrific massacres, pillaging, arson and other atrocities in Ascq, Guéret, Argenton-sur-Creuse, Maillé, Clermont-en-Argonne, Frayssinet, Saint-Julian, in several small communities in the Saulx Valley and elsewhere.
Finally, we must never forget the estimated 80,000 to 90,000 members of France’s Jewish population who were deported by the Nazis, the vast majority to be exterminated at various concentration camps.
No, “Syria” is by no stretch of the imagination the Holocaust, but please bear with me if the senselessness and cruelty of it all conjures up images of the Shoah in my mind.
Note: World War II statistics, especially estimates of casualties and of Holocaust victims, vary greatly. Numbers and statistics used here are either the most frequently quoted or a range of estimates.
Image: Courtesy Isurvived.org