Lessons of the death camps

What does the existence of death camps like Auschwitz teach us? Why must we never forget the horror and baseness of these places?

In a time when learning, science, art, music, education, etc was at its peak we still managed to build death camps and treated people worse than we treat cattle.

We already had the likes of Beethoven and Rembrant. We had already committed ourselves to the ideals of evolution and physics. Our science was applied to master races and weapons of destruction on a vast scale.

The horrors of that time are summed up in the words of Bertrand Russel (arguably the worlds greatest atheist philosopher):

“The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, led, instead, directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”

We can look at all this and shake our heads and marvel at how so many intelligent people could be so stupid. We can believe it is down to mistaken philosophies and following a corrupted leader but the truth is it is the darkness that lives in each one of us that caused this and that darkness still remains.

I quote a holocaust survivor Victor Frankl

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton (someone who behaves like a machine and shows no feelings) of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere produce of instinct, heredity, and environment, we feed the nihilism (the belief that nothing in life has any importance or value) to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment–or, as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

The truth is that this nihilism lives with greater force today than in any other time in history, even greater than the time that spawned the second world war. We study Hitler (and rightly so) looking for the flaw in him that caused all that suffering and yet at the same time deny that his flaw still lives in each one of us. We are more concerned about our selves and our own rights than we have ever been. We are more convinced there is nothing more than the physical world and we are nothing more than bags of chemicals driven by circumstances and environment. We are nothing more than selfish genes. We have given up on life meaning and purpose and substituted happiness, desires and selfishness. Do you not understand where all this will lead us?

Is there a solution?

There was a man who had answers to all this. He talked about things beyond the physical world and about a God who loves us and wants to help. He told us to think of others before ourselves. He taught us that love must not come with conditions but is built on sacrifice. He told us to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He even gave up himself in love for us so we might know what it means to be in a relationship with God. He declared he was equal with God, God himself in human form. He came back from the dead to prove it.

In our own strength we will fail. We cannot science or educate or psychology ourselves into a great new world. We tried to do that and we failed, death camps ought to remind us of this failure though we also seem to have failed in learning the lessons. We cannot overcome the darkness ourself and if we choose to ignore that darkness, that is in the heart of us all, it will continue to fester and grow.

There is only one way out of the darkness and that is to follow the light.

There is one way forward and that is in following Jesus, so that is what I am trying to do.

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