Charlottesville Neo-Nazis and a brief stop from Auschwitz

Photo of Author Göran Rosenberg

The neo-Nazi and white supremacists rally and the clash with opposition protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia last month that ended in the death of Heather D. Heyer, brought back vivid scenes and passages from a book I read last year, A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz, by Göran Rosenberg. It's story of how a survivor tried heroically to create a life after having escaped the horrors of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. In addition to reminding me of the story in that book, the Charlottesville riots prompted a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, on the theory that you can never be reminded too much of the horrors of the Nazi regime that led Germany from 1933-1945.

The crimes of the Hitler regime and Hitler's Nazis of World War II are known in some way by most of us, but if you were born a decade or more after 1945 you may not know enough about these hideous crimes, about the inhumanity of what happened, how human beings could systematically engage in such crimes, or for those not actively engaged in committing the crimes, how they could live normally while such horror was happening around them, while their fellow human beings were being rounded up and packed into boarded up cargo transport rail cars like so much cattle being sent to the slaughter house. In this case, six million or more human beings - young children often first, since they could not be worked to death as slave laborers - being sent to their deaths by mass shootings and gas chambers, buried in mass graves or burned in huge crematoriums, an attempt at wiping out the whole race of European Jews along with other humans deemed unfit by the Nazis to live.

If you don't know enough about these hideous crimes, it is a duty to learn more, to read more about them. The more we know about them, the more vivid the knowledge of the history of it, the less likely it can happen again. And though, not in the same way or on the same people as under Hitler, genocide has happened again - in places like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, Sudan. It appears that human cruelty knows no bounds and no end.

A good place to learn more about the Nazi inflicted horror may be with this book, Göran Rosenberg's story about his father, David Rosenberg. Göran is a Swedish journalist. His father, David, was a Polish citizen living in Lodz, Poland in the early days of WWII. David Rosenberg was first rounded up by Nazi conquerors of Poland, and along with his fellow Jewish relatives and neighbors he was forced into living in a prescribed closed off section of the city, the Lodz Ghetto, before being sent to Auschwitz. By some quirk of fate David Rosenberg survived the concentration death camp at Auschwitz. In 1944 when Germans were desperate for labor to work in war production factories, David Rosenberg was taken from the lines to the gas ovens at Auschwitz and transferred to slave labor camp factories that produced trucks and parts for the Hitler war effort. Many who worked in the slave labor factories were worked to death. They never got out. By some miracle, David Rosenberg survived. He ended up in temporary refuge in a small town in Sweden 20 miles outside of Stockholm.

Göran Rosenberg has pieced together family documents, official Swedish and German documents, newspaper accounts, his own childhood memories of growing up in Sweden, his father's and his mother's letters, talked to experts and traced the steps of his father's struggle to survive the aftermath of the horror he had been through. I don't want to spoil the story for you, so I won't tell you how David Rosenberg made out in the end. I will tell you that he managed to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart from Lodz, who suffered as well at the hands of the Nazis. They had two children, Göran and his sister. The family decided to stay in Sweden, rather than to emigrate to Israel.

David Rosenberg, trained as a textile engineer in Lodz, found work at a big Swedish truck factory as a pipe welder in the small Swedish town, which worked for a while, but after a time it became too confining with little prospect for upward mobility. Sweden was quite accepting of WWII Jewish refugees. The country became a refuge for anti-fascist and Jewish refugees from all over the region. In 1943, following a Nazi order to deport all of Denmark's Jewish population to concentration camps, nearly all of Denmark's 8,000 Jews were brought to safety in Sweden. Sweden also became a refuge for Norwegian Jews who fled from Nazi occupied Norway. But, as almost everywhere, there was Antisemitism in Sweden. The country maintained neutrality during the war but maintained relations with and traded with Germany and allowed Hitler to transport German soldiers through Sweden in Hitler's conquest of Norway and for its war on Finland.

I hope it is not so revealing as to spoil the story of David Rosenberg for you, but one of the problems that Rosenberg had in his fight for surviving and living after his near escape from death in the camps and the horror he had to go through to go on living as a slave laborer with too little food and water and shelter and medical attention was that the world was too eager to forget what had happened, too eager to move on without remembering and without acknowledging what it was that he had been through. So we can do our part by never forgetting the horror and cruelty that was inflicted on so many.

David may have also been ridden by guilt. Guilt that he survived while friends, relatives and neighbors of his in Lodz did not.

The book was originally written in Swedish. The translation into English is by, in this case, the aptly named Sarah Death. A Brief Stop On the Road From Auschwitz, by Göran Rosenberg, Other Press, New York, 2015.

Note: What may be among the last trials of Nazi war crimes and criminals took place in Northern Germany in 2015. Oskar Gröning, over 90 years old, a former accountant who worked for the Nazi's at Auschwitz, was convicted in assisting in the murder of over 300,000 Hungarian Jews between May 16 and July 11 in 1944.


Recent genocides:

WWII Sweden neutrality:


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