The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum received an unusual donation last Christmas: a photo album taken during the last year of Auschwitz. But unlike all our other images of Auschwitz, which show the horrors visited on the camps’ victims, this one shows the perpetrators at play. It’s mind-bending to see images of brutal killers (amongst whom you’ll find images of Mengele) singing songs together, frolicking in the rain, gathering for convivial drink fests, and otherwise enjoying ordinary life.
This album is a reminder, as I noted here, that one of the worst aspects of the Holocaust, for those in the West, is that the perpetrators were people just like us. We can’t distance ourselves from them simply by saying that they were twisted primitives from an alien culture. They weren’t. They were the product of one of Western Civilization’s highest cultures and, even as they were burning the dead bodies of the millions they murdered, they kept on living their ordinary lives — sometimes within a mile or two of the smokestacks.