Faith Matters

How evil wins, and how to beat it

We need to study peace a lot harder than those who are studying war.

If the first casualty of war is truth, perhaps the first casualty of political disappointment is a sense of proportion. If people had been in the habit of sending Christmas circular letters in 1917 or 1942, they could hardly have begun with a gloomier first paragraph than the ones I received from the United States and the United Kingdom at the end of last year.

Looking for balance between what’s wrong and what could be a lot worse, I decided to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau in January.

Auschwitz is the epitome of World War II. It was originally a Polish military camp. When western Poland was annexed by Germany, Auschwitz became an internment camp for Polish elites and political prisoners. When the Final Solution was decided upon and the extinction of European Jewry was planned in earnest, the camp began to kill people in two ways: a minority worked in hideous conditions until they dropped dead—after around two months in most cases. The majority, 700 at a time, went to the gas chamber. Five other extermination camps were opened, all in what had been western Poland, but Auschwitz was overstretched, so a second camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, opened two miles away. Each of its four gas chambers could kill 2,000 people at a time. Railroads brought people in overcrowded carriages right into the camp. When the train emptied, 20 percent of the occupants were directed to the workers’ quarters, and the rest walked half a mile down the platform and into the gas chambers.