January 27 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Located in occupied Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau was the most infamous German death camp, in which over a million Jews, Romani, and others whom the Nazi regime deemed unfit for life were gassed and murdered.
The Telegraph reports that Auschwitz survivors “will lay wreaths and light candles at the so-called Death Wall at Block 11.” This year’s commemoration is particularly important because it will likely be the last time those who personally experienced the horror of that camp will be able to make the trek to visit for a major anniversary. The inhuman treatment of Auschwitz captives and the barbarity of the Holocaust serve as stark reminders of how savagery can exist and even thrive in a modern, seemingly civilized world.
Tens of thousands of people visit the Auschwitz memorial every year to view where some of the most unspeakably monstrous acts were committed as a part of Adolf Hitler’s “final solution.” To a modern audience, the horrors that took place in Auschwitz and many other death camps, now well chronicled due to the explosion of writing on the Holocaust, seem self-evidently evil. Yet, the evil of the Nazi regime, even during World War II, was not so clear to many around the world who either neglected, denied, or simply did not understand its almost unfathomable depths.
In a recent interview, U.S. Army veteran Daniel Gillespie, who was one of the liberators at the Dachau concentration camp in Munich, Germany, spoke about how stunned he was upon discovering the conditions of the camp. “We could not understand it. I grew up in California where we had everything in abundance. We didn’t get how people could let other people starve. They murdered them or just let them die. Again and again the questions moved through my head. And at the same time I was just incredibly angry.”
Many were in disbelief that Germany—an advanced, first world country—could be capable of such mass, systematic genocide. Countless intellectuals believed before the war that the fascist system of economic management by the state and strong attachment to science would make Germany a world leader and perhaps even a model for other countries to replicate.
However, there were some in the pre-war years that were delivering warnings about the coming confrontation between the free world and the authoritarian fascist and communist regimes that were growing in power and boldness.
Winston Churchill, the now-venerated British statesman who had wandered in the political wilderness for years after World War I, again and again sounded the alarm of the growing threat of tyrannical regimes that had no regard for individual human liberty. He sought to strengthen the bond of the remaining bastions of freedom in the world, Great Britain and the United States, against this great, rising menace.
For this call to stop the advance of tyranny, Churchill was labelled a “warmonger,” and much of the free world attempted to negotiate with and appease Hitler. Nevertheless, the emboldened Nazis, sensing weakness in their opponents, went on a war path and smashed through Europe.
Churchill was wisely made prime minister in the darkest days of World War II, when Britain was isolated and nearly alone in its fight against Germany. He was unabashed about labeling the Nazis what they really were, and warned about the coming “dark age” if the free world ended the war in defeat. This fight was about more than one country pitted against another; it was a battle between good and evil.
Churchill said in his “Finest Hour” oration, perhaps his finest speech:
If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
Though the free world triumphed militarily against the Nazis in 1945, and philosophically against the Soviet Union in 1989, there are new, rising ideologies that are every bit as evil. The principles that motivate Islamic terrorism around the globe and are at the heart of al-Qaeda, Hamas, and the fast-growing Islamic State in the Middle East, among others, represent a massive threat and challenge to the free world.
It is fitting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently invited to speak before Congress—much to the dissatisfaction of the Obama administration—became the first foreign leader since Winston Churchill to speak before that body.
Like Churchill, Netanyahu warned about the growing menace that the free world would have to face against a militant and wicked ideology. Despite hopes that it would be a temporary threat that would burn itself out, the doctrines that guide radical Islam are gaining steam.
Netanyahu said in an advance copy of his speech, “When last I was here, the Arab Spring had just begun. There was still some hope that it would become a movement for liberation and democracy. And in some places, it has,” he continued. “Yet in places like Syria, it became a brutal civil war, where Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. After the horrors of World War II, in which my people suffered most, we thought that could never happen again. But the world did nothing.
Netanyahu then drew a connection between now and the lead-up to World War II: “What we are learning today is the same lesson we learned in the 1930s: that tyranny never stays where it begins, that evil is never satisfied by its early victories, that what starts ‘over there’ never stays over there.”
For most Americans, it was clear that the United States was being menaced by a great evil after the attacks on September 11, 2001. It was certainly clear to American Sniper Chris Kyle and the countless moviegoers who will surely make the recent Clint Eastwood movie about his life the highest grossing war film of all time. The Hollywood left was quick to label the film hateful “Nazi propaganda,” and recoiled at Kyle’s term “savages” to describe his enemies.
But after the 9/11 attacks and the countless other murders that have taken place around the world in the name of radical Islam, including most recently the murder of the French Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, it should be obvious what the free world is fighting. Like the heinous ideas that lead to Auschwitz and the Nazi death camps in World War II, these are clear-cut acts of evil, driven by a murderous world view. There is no better way of describing the modern threat to freedom than “savagery” and “barbarism” that, if not stopped, will lead the world into a new dark age.