It was seventy years ago today that a Russian rifle division arrived upon a scene of abandoned horror outside the town of Auschwitz in southern Poland. Having fled the camp with nearly 60,000 prisoners on a death march across the frozen countryside, the S.S. had left behind the weak, sick and the dying as the Soviet forces swept toward Berlin.
Although not the first of its kind discovered by the Allies, the city-sized camp at Auschwitz testified to the scope of the Nazis "Final Solution" for the Jews of occupied Europe. This was a factory for extermination unrivaled in scale and capacity for murder. It remains today a symbol of the pernicious tumult of human ignorance in the service of entropy.
The camp stands today in preservation, a museum open to hundreds of thousands of visitors who walk the grounds. Those who do visit often are overwhelmed not only by the atrocities committed, but by the sheer scale.
At 40 square kilometers, the massive factory of death easily encompassed
the downtown of a major metropolis.
A self-contained city unto itself, the camp was erected first as a concentration camp for political prisoners and gradually expanded in size and mandate over the course of the Second World War. By 1944, the sole purpose of Auschwitz was mass murder in gas chambers upon arrival of prisoners including 1.1 million Jews.
Now 70 years on from the horrors of the Holocaust, what endures are the testimonies of those who survived. Their stories and more importantly, the lives they went on to live, and lives that have come after them down the generations, are the cumulative if solemn victory over the darkness that nearly destroyed civilization.
In the second decade of the 21st century, our world remains rife with ideologies which seek no compromise, premised on irreconcilable absolutes. We face the dilemma of keeping vigilant against the obligation to intervene in the affairs of other nations ravaged by genocide. As we face these horrors in our own time, we can never forget, nor minimize the reality entombed in the soil of Auschwitz.