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Auschwitz-Birkenau: Personal Reflections

Posted by Matthew McCusker on 13 December 2012

In recent months this blog has been tracing the development of the ideology of eugenics. We have now reached the 1930s and the rise of Nazi Germany and the most concerted implementation of eugenic theories yet attempted.

Over the next few weeks we will examine the most important elements of the Nazi 'eugenic state' in more detail; however before we do so I would like to share some personal reflections on my recent visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A concentration camp was established at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1940 to hold Polish political prisoners but it became a central component of the Nazi eugenic programme especially after the Third Reich committed itself to the extermination of the Jews in 1942. It is estimated that at least one million people, mainly Jews, Poles, and Roma and Sinti gypsies, were murdered at the camp between 1940 and 1944. Nazi ideology, basing itself closely on the 'science' of eugenics (which I have previously discussed here and here), regarded all three groups as 'untermenschen' or subhuman.

Auschwitz-Birkenau consists of two main sites. The original camp, Auschwitz I, is now a museum while at Auschwitz II - Birkenau there are no exhibits or information boards and visitors are simply invited to walk around the complex which covers a total area of 140 hectares. The roads lead through rows and rows of barracks and other structures, of which for the most part only the foundations now remain. In two corners of the site are the ruins of the gas chambers in which so many innocent men, women, and children, lost their lives, being, for the most part, guilty only of possessing the wrong genes.

After spending the morning at the museum at Auschwitz I we arrived at Auschwitz II at about four o'clock in the afternoon, just as it was beginning to get dark and as the evening mist began to form. There were not many other visitors and so we walked the 'streets' of Auschwitz almost alone. Despite these 'atmospheric' conditions it was still very difficult to comprehend the horror of what had taken place on the very ground on which we were standing. For myself I was most forcibly struck by the tragedy while waiting for the bus that would take us back to Krakow and thinking of the hundreds of thousands of my fellow human beings who must have longed to make the same journey but who were never able to do so.

There were many other moments of unease as I explored the museum and site at Auschwitz. I felt unable to share in the common assumption that the 'Holocaust' is an event past and gone, which we can mourn over while comforting ourselves that we will never allow such things to happen again. As I walked through the galleries I became increasingly aware that the arguments used by the Nazis to justify their extermination of 'subhumans' were to a large extent indistinguishable both from the ideology of eugenics that I have been exploring on this blog and the arguments used to justify abortion and euthanasia in the present. The 'Holocaust' was simply one rotten fruit of the eugenics movement and the present mass-slaughter of the unborn is merely a modern manifestation of the same. There is even some degree of institutional continuity; we have already seen how a eugenicist involved in the Nazi sterilisation programme was head of the German affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation until 1984. We will be exploring Nazi eugenics in more detail over the next few weeks. I would like to conclude this post by simply stating a few of the parallels that struck me most closely as I walked through the museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Both the Nazis and the modern abortion industry use dehumanising language and pseudo-science in order to deny the humanity of their victims. Advocates of abortion refer to the unborn child merely as a 'foetus' or 'a clump of cells' in the same way that the Nazis developed a 'racial science' purporting to prove that Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were 'subhuman'. In recent years the abortion lobby has even redefined pregnancy, contrary to all established scientific understanding, in order to deny that certain forms of contraceptive drugs have an abortifacient effect.

Auschwitz has become notorious for the experiments carried out on prisoners by Dr Joseph Mengele and his team. The justification for such crimes was that they would lead to medical advances and that it was legitimate to experiment on 'subhumans' if it brought medical benefits. This is exactly the justification used by those who carry out experiments on human beings at the embryonic stage of development. They relegate these human beings to a 'subhuman' status and then argue that it is necessary to experiment on them in order to find cures for medical conditions. In both cases it is human beings who are the subject of the experiments. There is no moral difference between the experiments carried out by Dr Mengele in Auschwitz and those conducted by scientists in modern labs1.

In the museum at Auschwitz one can see punishment forms filled in by German guards seeking permission to punish prisoners. These forms had to be signed and approved by senior officers. This is just one of the ways in which the horrors of Auschwitz were legitimised by formal procedures. Auschwitz and other extermination camps were extremely well run, with clearly defined goals, and conducted with the full support of the national government. In the same way the abortion industry also hides behind its façade of legality and state support. By obtaining two signatures the taking of a human life suddenly becomes a legitimate and respectable procedure.

Legal formalities cannot however stifle the voice of conscience. There is always a secret fear of crimes being recognised for what they are. This secret guilt is clearly in evidence among the Nazis in their panicked liquidation of prisoners and destruction of the gas chambers as Allied forces approached the camps. It was also common for those involved in the 'final solution' to destroy any documents that implicated them. Despite their inward and outward self-justification they knew that they were guilty of an offence against the moral law and that this would be recognised once the full facts were known and freely discussed.

The abortion industry receives enormous sums of money from national governments; they are given almost total support in the mainstream media and the abortion ideology reigns unchallenged in most of our institutions. Yet the smallest success by the pro-life movement, the smallest number of people holding peaceful vigil outside a modern day death-chamber, is enough to bring forth extraordinary expressions of fear and anxiety on their part. They live in fear that those actions for which their conscience now condemns them in secret will one day be condemned before the whole world just as the crimes committed secretly at Auschwitz were exposed openly at Nuremberg.

There may be some readers who remain unconvinced by the parallel that I have drawn in this post. I would like to end by reminding such readers that the Nazis themselves would have had no difficulty in responding to my post with a barrage of false facts and arguments that purported to justify their identification of certain races as 'subhuman'. Yet today we can see that this distinction is arbitrary and their 'science' worthless. All those who support abortion, or any form of research or 'medical' procedure that leads to the destruction of embryos, are also making arbitrary distinctions between human beings reducing certain categories to a subhuman status which leads to their deaths. I would urge you to consider upon what grounds you make these distinctions and whether your division of humanity has any more justification than that of the Nazis. 

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1. It is also interesting to note that after Mengele escaped justice and fled to Argentina he practiced medicine for a couple of years, during which time he reputedly "had a reputation as a specialist in abortions." (http://www.nytimes.com/1992/02/11/world/mengele-an-abortionist-argentine-files-suggest.html)

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