Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Wandering through Baltimore Sunday night, I happened upon The Baltimore Holocaust Memorial. It's stunning, and harrowing, and in the coldness of the Fall night air, it enveloped me, as each piece of the memorial revealed its significance.

At the front, facing Lombard street, is the sculpture I photographed below. I started reading the words cut into it, "Those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it" nearly wrapping around the entire piece. I wasn't much looking at the top of the sculpture, focusing instead on the words. When my eyes finally went up, I froze, as the full horror of the work settled into my consciousness.

Not too far away is a quote, taking prominence over the square, from Primo Levi. And somewhere between that, and the sculpture, is a plaque with a short essay on the Holocaust.

It's unflinching, unforgiving, perhaps as it should be. Here is the text in its entirety:


The German attempt to annihilate European Jewry between 1933 and 1945, took the lives of six million Jews. Although genocide was not unprecedented, the Holocaust was unique not just in its numerical magnitude. Never before had a state government attempted to annihilate an entire people who were not military enemies but a defenseless civilian population. Gypsies and German handicapped were marked for death as part of the holocaust. Nazi Germany tyrannized homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish nationalists and resistance fighters. Millions died as a result.

Elected by the German people in 1933, the Nazi party quickly instituted a totalitarian regime built on pseudo-scientific racial and anti-Semitic principals. The German people ardently supported the Nazi regime until the latter stages of World War II, when defeat was imminent. Hundreds of thousands of German citizens and nationals of other countries allied with the Germans were involved in the killing process either as guards at camps, members of mobile killing units, architects who designed gas chambers, engineers who built crematoria, railway personnel and bureaucrats who oversaw the distribution of the victims possessions’ including the gold in their teeth. Although many perpetrators claimed they had no choice, there is no record of anyone being punished for refusing to participate in the killings.

Though the Holocaust occurred as part of World Was II, it was in fact something distinct. Its objectives often directly impeded the military effort. Trains, materiel, soldiers and munitions needed for the war were used instead to deport Jews and kill death camp inmates. During the last twelve months of the war, when it was obvious that Germany was going down to defeat, the pace of killing continued and in certain cases increased in intensity.

Many countries and neutral international agencies were aware of what was being done to Jews and other victims. Few, if any, were willing to speak out in protest. To compound the horror, most countries closed their doors to those who tried to escape the Holocaust.

Deborah E. Lipstadt
Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies
Emory University

There is more information on the memorial here.

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