Why when it comes to the Nazi Holocaust, forgetting is not an option

John Wight
5 min readOct 14, 2022

In his epic and comprehensive work, The Second World War, Anthony Beevor writes with customary economy:

On 27 January in the middle of the afternoon, a reconnaissance patrol from the 107th Rifle Division (attached to the Red Army’s 60th Army of the 1st Belorussian Front) emerged from a snowbound forest to discover the most terrible symbol in modern history.

This was the moment when Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the extensive network of Nazi extermination camps across Europe, was discovered and the full horror of the Holocaust revealed.

Still today it is almost impossible to fathom the scale and extent of the mass slaughter and barbarism that was orchestrated in service to the perverse and murderous Nazi fascist ideology of racial supremacy. Even more difficult to comprehend is the way it succeeded in polluting the hearts and minds of the untold thousands either directly engaged in administering and carrying out this industrial human slaughter, or the millions who acquiesced in it — beguiled into believing that eradicating European Jewry from the face of the earth, along with homosexuals, the disabled and mentally ill, Slavs, Roma, and others deemed sub-human, was consonant with human progress.

That this project of mass slaughter took place at the hands of a nation that was in the vanguard of Western Enlightenment, home to some of the world’s finest thinkers, philosophers, musicians, novelists, and artists, provides a stark warning as to the perils of lapsing into complacency when it comes to associating modernity with civilisation.

Primo Levi’s classic memoir of life as an inmate at Auschwitz, If This is a Man, amounts to a searing exploration of the human condition that is required reading. It confirms that the very worst of humanity co-existed at Auschwitz alongside the very best.

The conviction that life has a purpose is rooted in every fibre of man, it is a property of the human substance. Free men give many names to this

John Wight

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