In 1940, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi nationalists began a systematic cleansing of Jews and other minorities in Europe. In one of the darkest moments of human history, the Holocaust saw approximately six million men, women, and children hunted down and murdered on account of their ethnicity. Millions were deported from their homes and transported to concentration camps where they faced starvation, torture, and death by gassing.
Auschwitz was one such camp. In the span of four years, around 1.3 million people were interned at the Auschwitz facility. Of those 1.3 million, 1.1 million died-a mortality rate of nearly 85%. Death waited patiently for all who entered.
ELIE WIESEL’S STORY
In this special episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah interviewed Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel about his experience during World War 2. Together they visited the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. Elie relates his story.
Elie Wiesel was just 15 when in March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary and parts of Northern Transylvania. With the invasion force came the Holocaust, and Nazi forces began to separate and intern Jewish populations into concentration camps. Elie, his family, and the numerous Jews in his town were brought into internment ghettos where they were confined. Two months later, German forces pressured the Hungarian authorities to deport the encamped Jewish community to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
By the time Elie and his family were deported into the Auschwitz concentration camp, it had already been considered to be a notorious Nazi torture camp. It was composed of twenty-two brick buildings and housed gas chamber rooms, in which Jews and other interned minorities were sent into naked and brutally murdered. The first mass of transport into the Auschwitz concentration camp was a group of seven-hundred and twenty-eight Polish prisoners, most of whom were men, and included members of the Catholic Church and numerous Jews.
Most were killed brutally upon arrival. Among them, Elie’s mother and sister. Elie and his father were spared and selected for labor as long as they could work. If they failed to continue working, they were to be gassed and executed. This was a common practice in most Nazi concentration camps at that time. Only those who could be used for work were spared.
Both were later transferred to the Buchenwald concentration facility, where they were worked until the end of the war. Elie admitted to Oprah that before this transfer, his primary motivation for staying alive was knowing his father still lived. He says, “I knew that as long as I breathed, he did too.” In 1945, Buchenwald was liberated. Elie’s father, however, did not live to see freedom again.
With the fall of Nazi Germany came the end of the Holocaust. The few that survived the concentration camps bear witness to the atrocities that occurred. The Holocaust is a cruel example of what the evilness of man is capable of. May history never repeat itself.