With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The Holocaust Was an Attempt to Erase Millions of People. Today, the World Must Honor the Evidence That They Existed

In a scene in Claude Lanzmann’s groundbreaking documentary Shoah, historian Raul Hilberg, a giant in the world of Holocaust research, sits in his study in a wintry Vermont. He has a piece of paper in his hand: a typical traffic order, a Fahrplananordnung, with number 587, he explains, regarding a train transport to Treblinka. The abbreviation PKR appears, which denotes full trains, and also the letter L which stands for Leer, which means empty. It appears that this train consisted of 50 wagons and was heavily loaded when it arrived at Treblinka at 11:24 on Oct. 1, 1942 and that it departed four and a half hours later, empty and tidy. The train was driven to a city where a ghetto had been emptied to retrieve its new human load, which it deposited in Treblinka the following day. All is evident from this traffic order, this form, a trivial document. And yet it is a paper that involves the death of ten thousand people. Raul Hilberg counted.

In the film, Claude Lanzmann cannot reconcile the triviality of the paper and its deadly consequences. I’ve been to Treblinka, he says, and to bring these two together, the death camp and this document… Then Hilberg replies: “When I get hold of a paper of this kind, especially as it is an original document, I know that the bureaucrat of the time himself held it in his hands. It’s an artifact, and that’s all that’s left. The dead are no longer there. ”

These simple words summarize the situation for all of us living after the genocide of the European Jews. People were murdered, their bodies burned or thrown into hollows in the ground. Their homes and businesses were stolen, their watches stolen, their clothes sold on, their hair cut off and used to fill German soldiers’ mattresses. They were literally erased from the face of the earth.

We are left with a void. It harbors people who called themselves atheists and Jews, assimilated and orthodox, baptized and converted Christians, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, those who had been classified insane. An insatiable amount of thoughts, songs, prayers, debates, tenderness and laughter was erased.

Read entire article at Time