Feb 16, 2015
There have been numerous commemorations of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland on January 27, 1945. The camp was created in 1940 as a place for Nazi exterminations. More than a million men, women and children perished there. Nine hundred thousand went to the gas chambers upon their arrival; many others died from the atrocious conditions of forced labor there.
The genocidal plan of the Nazis claimed some six million victims, whether massacred by the SS or killed in the extermination camps. The immense majority were Jews. Between 300,000 and 400,000 of those who died were of Gypsy background. The murderous madness of the Nazis sent 100,000 mentally handicapped people to the camps, of whom at least 30,000 died. The same was true of homosexuals. And hundreds of thousands of worker militants who opposed the Nazis throughout Europe were sent to the camps, from which none returned.
Representatives of the French, German, Italian and U.S. governments, among others, came to the commemorations at Auschwitz, claiming they honored the memory of all those who died. They limited themselves to a formal condemnation of anti-Semitism, often putting the responsibility on people themselves, in particular, the Germans. But they avoided the most important question: how was it possible for Hitler and his band of thugs to come to power in Germany, one of the most civilized countries in Europe? How could they impose this abominable dictatorship that led to death camps?
The Nazi dictatorship was not born solely from the murderous idiocy of Hitler and his brown shirts who hated Jews, communists and the workers’ movement. Nazism came to power as a monstrous byproduct of capitalism.
In 1929, Europe’s populations had not yet recovered from the nightmare of World War I when the capitalist economy plunged into crisis. In a few years, American production collapsed, leading to a fall in production in all capitalist countries. In 1932, Germany had six million unemployed, with most of the population living in misery. In this situation, the German bourgeoisie decided to support the coming to power of the Nazis, a step along the road to another war. But above all, they wanted to suppress the risk that a powerful workers’ movement represented for the German bourgeoisie.
At the beginning of 1932, the bankers, capitalists and industrialists helped the Nazis by financing their take-over. Hitler’s party consisted of hundreds of thousands of militants, often from the petty bourgeoisie, who hated their own social decline, who hated and blamed workers and communists, who thirsted for vengeance in a society that left them with no future. They were ready to impose Nazi rule by violence and crime. At the top of the German state were such big bourgeois families as the Krupps, the Thyssens and the Siemens, who saw Hitler as their savior. The decision to name him chancellor was taken on January 3, 1933, in the villa of a big banker at a secret meeting between Hitler and Von Papen, who was then chancellor.
The capitalists ensured there was no hindrance to Nazism, totally unmoved by the barbarous bloodbath they had brought to power. Some capitalists found the Nazis useful in providing slave labor for them from those in the Nazi camps, and some took part in working out how to create an industrial method for coldly murdering millions of victims.
For the capitalists, the Nazis would protect their interests, and prepare for a war from which they would profit – no matter that they unleashed a horde of hysterical thugs who created genocide. Even if these capitalists didn’t decide on the anti-Semitic policies that the Nazis carried out first in Germany and then throughout Europe against Jewish populations, they are responsible for a political process that resulted in the death camps.
Like the German bourgeoisie, the rest of the imperialist leaders didn’t worry too much about the Nazi dictatorship, at least not until 1939. Their so-called democratic convictions went right along with hysterical anti-Semitism, violence against Jews, the first concentration camps, and the killing of “heretics.” The British, French and American rulers knew all that was going on. But they were content that Hitler had brought down one of the most powerful working classes in Europe, so long as the competition between the German bourgeoisie and the other bourgeoisies had not yet led to actual war. They didn’t care about the fate of so many Jews and all those others transported to the death camps.
Up to the end of the war, President Roosevelt refused to bomb the railway lines that led to the death camps, from which those who escaped had already brought out numerous proofs and maps. And nothing was organized for those trying to flee from Europe, even though they faced almost certain death in the camps. As for the Stalinist USSR, it also held back from liberating the death camps. The Red Army waited to advance until after the insurgent Polish partisans were crushed by Hitler.
Seventy years later, we must not forget the unspeakable barbarity of the Nazi regime. But it’s dangerous to forget that it was the capitalist crisis that made it possible.
It’s impossible to foresee today what horrors the current economic crisis of capitalism might unleash. But it’s clear that the capitalist system represents a mortal danger for all of humanity.