Modern measurement unit: one Auschwitz

AuschwitzMany young people these days sport Soviet lapel pins, medals and other insignia. Miniature portraits of Lenin and Stalin, red flags, hammer and sickle are seen as cool, a symbol of anti-establishment resentment.

However, one can’t help feeling that the same youngsters would be aghast if someone suggested they replaced Stalin or Lenin with Hitler, or the hammer and sickle with the swastika.

This would be considered dangerous extremism and possibly reported to the police. Unlike Lenin and Stalin, Hitler isn’t cool.

Even some grown-ups writing for our papers see no problem extolling the virtue of Lenin’s and Stalin’s descendants – they quite like Putin’s KGB government, proud of its CV. Intuitive revulsion so many feel about the Nazis just doesn’t extend to the Soviets, at least not to the same extent.

Those chaps could do worse than read this article by the Russian historian Dmitry Khmelnitsky:

“Sixty kilometres from Krakow lies Europe’s most sickening place: the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. There the Nazis murdered a million and half people in two years.

“This concentration camp, specially created in Poland for secret, industrialised extermination, has become a symbol – practically the only one – of everything inhumane that happened in the twentieth century. True, Europe produced nothing more appalling. But the USSR did.

“Some 7-8 years before Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz, the NKVD conducted within the Soviet Union a series of special operations later called the Great Terror. It began on 30 July, 1937, when the NKVD issued Order 00447. The Order established the numerical quotas for both “first and second categories” (death penalty or concentration camp) for each region. Also specified were the make-ups of the troikas authorised to pass verdicts (prosecutor, local party secretary, NKVD head).

“Over 15 months, from August, 1937, to November, 1938, about two million people were arrested and convicted. Of those, 750,000 were summarily shot. About 2,000 were being shot in Moscow every day – an Auschwitz-like scale. The ‘output quotas’ presupposed Auschwitz-like planning and organisation, as did the working methods. In 1937 most corpses were cremated in the Donskoy Monastery. When the crematorium couldn’t cope, the remains were buried in special areas.

“In 1931, 14 years before the liberation of Auschwitz, the Soviets organised a mass famine in the countryside. It’s not that they sought to kill as many people as possible; the aim was different. At the time they were purchasing huge volumes of foreign equipment for the industrial and military installations being built within the First Five-Year Plan. And sales of cereals and timber were the only source of foreign currency. That’s why all food was being confiscated from the villages in 1931-1934.

“We don’t know the exact numbers of those killed by the Golodomor. These vary from a minimum of 3-4 million to a maximum of 8-9 million human beings starved to death. From two to six Auschwitzes.

“But in fact the state extermination industry was in full swing even earlier, when the Five-Year Plan was adopted and the new construction sites were short of labour. It was out of the question that anyone would move there from villages voluntarily. That’s why industrialisation plans included mass incarceration as an essential component. Nationwide forced labour was a must.

“Between 1929 and the mid-50s, about 15 million were sent to the GULAG on trumped-up political charges. There were also deliberately cannibalistic charges of “pilfering socialist property”, when people were punished for picking up a few ears of wheat in a field or a spool of thread at a factory (10 years to death). Many were also imprisoned for tardiness and absenteeism. In total we’re talking about another 20 million.

“The USSR didn’t have death camps as such. The objectives were purely pragmatic: to squeeze every ounce of strength out of a man in the shortest possible time. In its industrial-scale organisation the Soviet punitive system resembled the Nazi one. In scale, it was far ahead.

“During the toughest period, in the early 1940s, the average annual mortality in the camps reached 24 per cent. It’s hard to count all those who died in the GULAG then, but one and a half to two Auschwitzes is a realistic assessment.

“In addition, there were many other victims, those caught in the deportations carried out between 1930 and 1952. That’s another six million. These were kulaks, ‘class aliens’ and victims of ethnic purges. Ten nations were deported in their entirety, many others partially. Sometimes, in winter, a whole trainload of prisoners were unloaded in the steppe, where they all froze to death within two days (as happened to Russian Germans in Kazakhstan).

“Sometimes, when deportation couldn’t be completed on time, the entire populations of villages (for example, in Balkaria) were shot or burned alive. Again, no precise figures are known, but that’s approximately another Auschwitz.

“The Red Army liberated Auschwitz but didn’t let it go to waste. Few people know that Nazi camps, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen among them, stayed in service for another five years as ‘special camps’. They were then rolled into the GULAG and shut down. But their equipment wasn’t lost: the new owners used it in their home-based camps. Documents show that transported to the USSR were modular barracks, kitchen, laundry and medical equipment – along with certain “production mechanisms”. The documents don’t say what is hidden behind this sinister term.”

The article is complete with facsimiles of the cited documents, which I can’t reproduce here. The author also doesn’t mention the millions murdered before 1929. But the point still comes across, wouldn’t you say?






3 thoughts on “Modern measurement unit: one Auschwitz”

  1. It’s not hard to see how Tolkien’s Mordor was inspired by Stalin’s Russia, although western popular culture has never really come to terms with the full extent of Soviet horror. The most terrible thing is that such an order was needed to defeat Nazi Germany. Verily, the greatest honour of the XX century is to have been hated by both the national and international socialists.

  2. It is incredible that there still those who actually support or excuse the Soviet Union deaths.

    One such was the Historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was President of Birkbeck College in the University of London.

    In a fawning BBC interview shortly before Hobsbawm died a few years ago, Simon Schama asked him if he thought these deaths were justified. Hobsbawm replied that yes they would have been if they had brought about the hoped for Communist utopia.
    They were in the same category as battlefield deaths in a war.

    One feels that there are plenty in the BBC who agree with Hobsbawm.

    Incidentally, the young still like that poster of a romanticised Che Guevara, a man soaked in blood and a prime architect of the Prison camp that has been Cuba.

  3. The Bolshies taught the Nazis a thing or two in the arts of cruelty and savagery. Hitler was an admirer of Lenin’s ruthlessness and envious of Stalin’s million man liquidation of his own creatures. “In the end you rue that you’ve been too kind”, he’s been reputed to say wistfully when comparing his own paltry body count to Stalin’s.
    And as for contemporary useful idiots, it’s a moral perversion on their part not ignorance (they know the facts very well ).

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