AUSCHWITZ AND “INTRINSIC EVIL”

First Things | 1/27/1945 | George Weigel
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Seventy-five years ago, on January 27, 1945, the infantrymen of the Red Army’s 322nd Rifle Division were bludgeoning their way into the Third Reich when they discovered the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps. The German inventors of industrialized mass slaughter had cleared out earlier, forcing some 60,000 prisoners deemed capable of slave labor in the Fatherland on a march westward, during which many died. Battle-hardened Russian veterans of the brutal war on the Eastern Front were nonetheless shocked by what they found at Auschwitz-Birkenau: 6,000 living skeletons, many suffering from diseases that would kill them before medical care and food restored their strength.

On his pilgrimage there in June 1979, Pope St. John Paul II called Auschwitz-Birkenau the “Golgotha of the modern world.” And it is striking that a world largely inured to murder on a vast scale still recognizes in Auschwitz an icon of radical evil: a barbaric grotesquerie no sane person would attempt to justify. In that sense, the lethal reality of what happened at Auschwitz-Birkenau stands in contradiction to the claim by some Catholic moral theologians—once thought marginalized but now back in business—that there are no “intrinsically evil acts.” If you cannot concede that what was done to over one million innocents in the torture cells, on the gallows, at the “Wall of Death,” and in the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau was “intrinsically evil”—gravely wrong, period—then you are a moral cretin, no matter what your highest earned degree may be.

Auschwitz-Birkenau - Times - Years - Cell - Auschwitz

I’ve been to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex perhaps 10 times: in recent years, to pray at the cell in Auschwitz I where St. Maximilian Kolbe was starved for two weeks before being killed by an injection of carbolic acid, or to hike around the perimeter of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, praying the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary while walking past the likely...
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