+
upworthy
Education

Lessons we should have learned from the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi camps

It's been more than 75 years since the last prisoners were freed from Auschwitz. The farther we get from that chapter, the more important it is to focus on the lessons it taught us, lest we ignore the signs of history repeating itself.

Lessons we should have learned from the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi camps

From 1940 to 1945, an estimated 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest complex of Nazi concentration camps. More than four out of five of those people—at least 1.1 million people—were murdered there.

On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the final prisoners from these camps—7,000 people, most of whom were sick or dying. Those of us with a decent public education are familiar with at least a few names of Nazi extermination facilities—Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen—but these are merely a few of the thousands (yes, thousands) of concentration camps, sub camps, and ghettos spread across Europe where Jews and other targets of Hitler's regime were persecuted, tortured, and killed by the millions.


The scale of the atrocity is unfathomable. Like slavery, the Holocaust is a piece of history where the more you learn the more horrifying it becomes. The inhumane depravity of the perpetrators and the gut-wrenching suffering of the victims defies description. It almost becomes too much for the mind and heart to take in, but it's vital that we push through that resistance.

The liberation of the Nazi camps marked the end of Hitler's attempt at ethnic cleansing, and the beginning of humanity's awareness about how such a heinous chapter in human history took place. The farther we get from that chapter, the more important it is to focus on the lessons it taught us, lest we ignore the signs of history repeating itself.

Lesson 1: Unspeakable evil can be institutionalized on a massive scale

Perhaps the most jarring thing about the Holocaust is how systematized it was. We're not talking about humans slaying other humans in a fit of rage or a small number of twisted individuals torturing people in a basement someplace—this was a structured, calculated, disciplined, and meticulously planned and carried out effort to exterminate masses of people. The Nazi regime built a well-oiled killing machine the size of half a continent, and it worked exactly as intended. We often cite the number of people killed, but the number of people who partook in the systematic torture and destruction of millions of people is just as harrowing.

It has now come out that Allied forces knew about the mass killing of Jews as early as 1942—three years before the end of the war. And obviously, there were reports from individuals of what was happening from the very beginning. People often ask why more wasn't done earlier on if people knew, and there are undoubtedly political reasons for that. But we also have the benefit of hindsight in asking that question. I can imagine most people simply disbelieving what was actually taking place because it sounds so utterly unbelievable.

The lesson here is that we have to question our tendency to disbelieve things that sound too horrible to be true. We have evidence that the worst things imaginable on a scale that seems unfathomable are totally plausible.

Lesson 2: Atrocity can happen right under our noses as we go about our daily lives

One thing that struck me as I was reading about the liberation of Auschwitz is that it was a mere 37 miles from Krakow, one of the largest cities in Poland. This camp where an average of 500 people a day were killed, where bodies were piled up like corded wood, where men, women, and children were herded into gas chambers—and it was not that far from a major population center.

And that was just one set of camps. We now know that there were thousands of locations where the Nazis carried out their "final solution," and it's not like they always did it way out in the middle of nowhere. A New York Times report on how many more camps there were than scholars originally thought describes what was happening to Jews and marginalized people as the average person went about their daily lives:

"The documented camps include not only 'killing centers' but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named 'care' centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel."

Whether or not the average person knew the full extent of what was happening is unclear. But surely there were reports. And we know how the average person responds to reports, even today in our own country.

How many news stories have we seen of abuses and inhumane conditions inside U.S. immigrant detention camps? What is our reaction when the United Nations human rights chief visits our detention facilities and comes away "appalled"? It's a natural tendency to assume things simply can't be that bad—that's undoubtedly what millions of Germans thought as well when stories leaked through the propaganda.

Lesson 3: Propaganda works incredibly well

Propaganda has always been a part of governance, as leaders try to sway the general populace to support whatever they are doing. But the Nazis perfected the art and science of propaganda, shamelessly playing on people's prejudices and fears and flooding the public with mountains of it.

Hermann Goering, one of Hitler's top political and military figures, explained in an interview late in his life that such manipulation of the masses isn't even that hard.

"The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders," he said. "That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Terrifyingly true, isn't it? This is why we have to stay vigilant in the face of fear-mongering rhetoric coming from our leaders. When an entire religion or nationality or ethnic group is painted as "dangerous" or "criminal" or "terrorists," we have to recognize that we are being exposed to the same propaganda used to convince Germans that the Nazis were just trying to protect them. Safety and security are powerful human desires that make it easy to justify horrible acts.

Hitler was also great at playing the victim. While marching through Europe, conquering countries and rounding up millions of innocent people to exterminate, he claimed that Germany was the one under attack. Blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric surely fired up Hitler's core supporters, but the message to the average German was that this was all being done in the name of protecting the homeland, rather than a quest for a world-dominating master race.

Lesson 4: Most of us are in greater danger of committing a holocaust than being a victim of one

I had to pause when this realization hit me one day. As fairly average white American, I am in the majority in my country. And as strange as it is to say, that means I have more in common with the Germans who either committed heinous acts or capitulated to the Nazis than I do with the Jews and other targets of the Nazi party. That isn't to say that I would easily go along with mass genocide, but who's to say that I could fully resist the combination of systematic dehumanization, propaganda, and terrorism that led to the Holocaust? We all like to think we'd be the brave heroes hiding the Anne Franks of the world in our secret cupboards, but the truth is we don't really know what we would have done.

Check out what this Army Captain who helped liberate a Nazi camp said about his bafflement at what the Germans, "a cultured people" allowed to happen:

"I had studied German literature while an undergraduate at Harvard College. I knew about the culture of the German people and I could not, could not really believe that this was happening in this day and age; that in the twentieth century a cultured people like the Germans would undertake something like this. It was just beyond our imagination... Captain (Dr.) Philip Leif - 3rd Auxiliary Surgical Group, First Army

Some say that we can gauge what we would have done by examining what we're doing right now, and perhaps they are right. Are we speaking out against our government's cruel family separations that traumatize innocent children? Do we justify travel bans from entire countries because we trust that it's simply our leadership trying to keep us safe? Do we buy into the "Muslims are terrorists" and "undocumented immigrants are criminals" rhetoric?

While it's wise to be wary of comparing current events to the Holocaust, it's also wise to recognize that the Holocaust didn't start with gas chambers. It started with "othering," scapegoating, and fear-mongering. We have to be watchful not only for signs of atrocity, but for the signs leading up to it.

Lesson 5: Teaching full and accurate history matters

There are people who deny that the Holocaust even happened, which is mind-boggling. But there are far more people who are ignorant to the true horrors of it. Reading first-hand accounts of both the people who survived the camps and those who liberated them is perhaps the best way to begin to grasp the scope of what happened.

One small example is Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower's attempt to describe what he saw when he visited Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald:

"The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda.'"

And of course, the most important narratives to read and try to digest are the accounts of those who survived the camps. Today, 200 survivors of Auschwitz gathered to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its liberation. They warned about the rise in anti-Semitism in the world and how we must not let prejudice and hatred fester. Imagine having to make such a warning seven decades after watching family and friends being slaughtered in front of you.

Let's use this anniversary as an opportunity to dive deeper into what circumstances and environment enabled millions of people to be killed by one country's leadership. Let's learn the lessons the Holocaust has to teach us about human nature and our place in the creation of history. And let's make darn sure we do everything in our power to fend off the forces that threaten to lead us down a similarly perilous path.


This article originally appeared on 01.27.20

True

Music’s biggest night took place Sunday, February 4 with the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Now, fans have the opportunity to take home a piece of the famed event.

Longtime GRAMMY Awards partner Mastercard is using this year’s campaign to shine a light on the environment and the Priceless Planet Coalition (PPC), a forest restoration program with the goal of restoring 100 million trees. Music fans are 1.5 times more likely to take action to help the environment, making the GRAMMY Awards the perfect opportunity to raise awareness.

“Through our GRAMMY Awards campaign, we’ve created an opportunity for our brand, our partners and consumers to come together over shared values, to participate during a moment when we can celebrate our passion for music and our commitment to make meaningful investments to preserve the environment,” says Rustom Dastoor, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications, North America at Mastercard.

The campaign kicked off with an inspired self-guided multi-sensory tour at the GRAMMY House presented by Mastercard, where people journeyed through their passion of music and educational experience about Mastercard’s longstanding commitment to tree restoration. Then, this year’s most-nominated GRAMMY artist and a passionate voice for the environment, SZA, led the charge with the debut performance of her new song, Saturn.

Mastercard’s partners are also joining the mission by encouraging people all over the country to participate; Lyft and Sirius XM are both offering ways for consumers to get involved in the Priceless Planet Coalition. To learn more about how you can support these efforts, visit mastercard.com/forceofnature.

While fashion is always a highlight of any GRAMMY Awards event, SZA’s outfit worn during her performance of Saturn was designed to make a statement; made of tree seeds to help spread awareness. Fans can even comment ‘🌱’ and tag a friend on Mastercard’s designated post of SZA’s GRAMMY House performance for a chance to win a tree seed from the performance outfit*.

“SZA has a personal passion for sustainability – not just in forest restoration but in the clothes she wears and the platforms and partners she aligns herself with. It was important to us to partner with someone who is not only showing up big at the GRAMMY Awards – as the most GRAMMY-nominated artist this year – but also showing up big for the environment,” says Dastoor.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kampus Production/Canva

How often do you change your sheets?

If you were to ask a random group of people, "How often do you wash your sheets?" you'd likely get drastically different answers. There are the "Every single Sunday without fail" folks, the "Who on Earth washes their sheets weekly?!?" people and everyone in between.

According to a survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Mattress Advisor, the average time between sheet changings or washings in the U.S. is 24 days—or every 3 1/2 weeks, approximately. The same survey revealed that 35 days is the average interval at which unwashed sheets are "gross."

Some of you are cringing at those stats while others are thinking, "That sounds about right." But how often should you wash your sheets, according to experts?

Hint: It's a lot more frequent than 24 days.

While there is no definitive number of days or weeks, most experts recommend swapping out used sheets for clean ones every week or two.

Dermatologist Alok Vij, MD told Cleveland Clinic that people should wash their sheets at least every two weeks, but probably more often if you have pets, live in a hot climate, sweat a lot, are recovering from illness, have allergies or asthma or if you sleep naked.

We shed dead skin all the time, and friction helps those dead skin cells slough off, so imagine what's happening every time you roll over and your skin rubs on the sheets. It's normal to sweat in your sleep, too, so that's also getting on your sheets. And then there's dander and dust mites and dirt that we carry around on us just from living in the world, all combining to make for pretty dirty sheets in a fairly short period of time, even if they look "clean."

Maybe if you shower before bed and always wear clean pajamas you could get by with a two-week sheet swap cycle, but weekly sheet cleaning seems to be the general consensus among the experts. The New York Times consulted five books about laundry and cleaning habits, and once a week was what they all recommend.

Sorry, once-a-monthers. You may want to step up your sheet game a bit.

What about the rest of your bedding? Blankets and comforters and whatnot?

Sleep.com recommends washing your duvet cover once a week, but this depends on whether you use a top sheet. Somewhere between the Gen X and Millennial eras, young folks stopped being about the top sheet life, just using their duvet with no top sheet. If that's you, wash that baby once a week. If you do use a top sheet, you can go a couple weeks longer on the duvet cover.

For blankets and comforters and duvet inserts, Sleep.com says every 3 months. And for decorative blankets and quilts that you don't really use, once a year washing will suffice.

What about pillows? Pillowcases should go in with the weekly sheet washing, but pillows themselves should be washed every 3 to 6 months. Washing pillows can be a pain, and if you don't do it right, you can end up with a lumpy pillow, but it's a good idea because between your sweat, saliva and skin cells, pillows can start harboring bacteria.

Finally, how about the mattress itself? Home influencers on TikTok can often be seen stripping their beds, sprinkling their mattress with baking soda, brushing it into the mattress fibers and then vacuuming it all out. Architectural Digest says the longer you leave baking soda on the mattress, the better—at least a few hours, but preferably overnight. Some people add a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda for some extra yummy smell.

If that all sounds like way too much work, maybe just start with the sheets. Pick a day of the week and make it your sheet washing day. You might find that climbing into a clean, fresh set of sheets more often is a nice way to feel pampered without a whole lot of effort.

popular

Super Bowl ad showing real-life NFL 'Taylor Swift effect' is bringing people to tears

The daddy-daughter storyline is a tearjerker, without saying a word.

One dad and daughter share their new football bond.

Dads and daughters often have a unique bond, which can sometimes hit a rocky spot as adolescence approaches. It's not that the love isn't there, but swift changes in development can leave them both reeling and struggling to connect the way they used to.

In an unexpected turn of events, many fathers are finding themselves bonding over football with their previously uninterested daughters recently. Taylor Swift, pop star beloved by millions of teens and tweens, started dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce near the beginning of the NFL season, and as their relationship grew, so did Swifties' interest in football. The phenomenon has been dubbed the "Taylor Swift effect."

Is a singer dating a football player a silly reason to start watching football? Maybe. Has it been a boon for many a daddy-daughter relationships? Apparently so. And skincare company Cetaphil is highlighting one real-life "Taylor Swift effect" example with their tear-jerking Super Bowl ad.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

People born before 1990 are sharing their now-useless but 100 percent nostalgic skills

For instance, recording songs on tape from the radio while yelling at the DJ to shut up during the intro.

From holding the phone on your shoulder to folding a map to knowing what "cornflower" and "goldenrod" are, here are pre-Y2K skills at their finest.

Hey there, millennials! Welcome to the "Holy crapoly, I have real-life memories from 20 years ago!" club. It's a strangely disorienting milestone to reach when you find yourself starting sentences with "When I was young…" or "Back in my day…" isn't it?

Your Gen X elders have been here for a while, but even we have moments of incredulously calculating how the heck we've arrived at this place. Time is a tricky little jokester, isn't he?

To highlight how much has changed for middle-aged folks since we were young, a user on Reddit asked people born before 1990 what useless skills they possess that nobody has a need for anymore. It's both a hilarious trip down memory lane and a time capsule of life pre-Y2K. (Do kids these days even know what Y2K was? Gracious.)

If you're down for some good-old-days nostalgia, check out people's responses:

Keep ReadingShow less
Parenting

Mom causes debate after sharing the surprising 'gift' she gives for every kid's party

Sarah Clarke swears that her idea saves on "mental load." But not everyone thinks it's very considerate.

Representative image from Canva

Has minimalism gone too far?

Having kids means not only prepping and planning their own birthday party, but making sure you don’t show up empty-handed to the plethora of other kid’s parties.

In a now-viral Instagram post, UK-based mom Sarah Clarke explains her trick that she does for every kids party to “save on mental load.” Though Clarke swears by it, not everyone agrees.

“I get the same thing every time, no matter how old they are, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl,” Clarke said in the clip, clarifying that the gift is not a traditional present, but a gift certificate to a local coffee shop, where the kid can have a “hot chocolate or cake” with their parents.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

LeVar Burton gives cheeky 'Reading Rainbow' segment for banned books

The segment, shown on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," featured banned titles like "Charlottes Web" and "Harriet the Spy."

Super Festivals/Wikipedia, Wikipedia

You've never seen a "Reading Rainbow" episode quite like this

“Reading Rainbow” might have had its last episode in 2006, but LeVar Burton hasn’t stopped being a book advocate.

The actor and beloved host has spoken out against the unprecedented levels of books banned in schools throughout the country—acting as executive producer do the 2023 documentary “The Right to Read,” and has partnered with the nonprofit MoveOn.org to create a limited-edition T-shirt that reads “LeVar Burton Says Read Banned Books.”

And recently on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Burton brought attention to the subject by resurrecting the popular kids show. Only this is unlike any “Reading Rainbow” segment you’ve seen before.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by 傅甬 华 on Unsplash

Cats are far more badass than we give them credit for.

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and standoffish, like they're better than everyone and simply can't be bothered. Those of us who have cats know they're not always like that … but yes, they're sometimes like that. They can be sweet and affectionate, but they want affection on their terms, they want to eat and play and sleep on their own clock, and we puny, inferior humans have little say in the matter.

There's a reason why we have obedience schools for dogs and not for cats. Maine coon or Bengal, Savannah or Siamese, ragdoll or sphynx, domestic cats of all breeds are largely untrainable little punks who lure us into loving them by blessing us with the honor of stroking their fur and hearing them purr.

But perhaps we assume too much when we think cats are full of themselves for no good reason. Maybe they are actually somewhat justified in their snootiness. Maybe they really, truly are superior to pretty much every other creature on Earth and that's why they act like it.

Keep ReadingShow less