This is a composite image that I created from a shockingly vile photo by Edward Burtynsky (2014) entitled, “Fence,” which is powerfully etched into one the main concrete blocks at Canada’s National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, Ontario.
It depicts our nation, like many others, standing up to one of the darkest moments in human history by showing the barbed-wire electric fencing that the Nazi’s used and erected at their largest killing centres in Auschwitz and Birkenau, Poland. A silver plaque next to this war art notes that approximately 960,000 Jews and 120,000 Poles, Roma, Sinti, and Soviets were murdered at Auschwitz with horror, terror and cruelty. A picture like this – and everything it symbolizes - could have only been taken and composed under the powerful march towards release and peace, as the Schutzstaffel (SS) on site at the time would have most certainly, swiftly and severely executed anyone that dared challenge their (delusional) 1000-year reich and völkisch visions.
When I look at this image all I can see is blood, ash, and an unfathomably insane degree of malevolence that somehow became state sponsored and tolerated for a while. Trying to figure out why and how could easily fill an entire lifetime of intellectual energy. As Andrea Pitzer writes, while the advent of barbed wire and automatic weapons allowed the few to more easily imprison the many, history shows us that concentration camps existed long before Auschwitz. Even beloved Canada, who has long proven and chosen to be more peace faring than belligerent in the international community, had internment camps during WWI and WWII, yet obviously nowhere near the extent of the Nazis, but still obviously deplorable and unconscionable. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered an official apology of past internment actions against Japanese-Canadians. In fairness, many Germans, and even some army officers like Claus von Stauffenberg, could no longer tolerate the trajectory and barbary of Nazism either, and (unsuccessfully) attempted to stop it from within.
While western liberal democracies were ultimately slow to enter into total war with the Nazis in the 1930s, they eventually did because Nazism (and all it stood for) could simply be no longer tolerated under any conditions. Lest we forget the people who fell, and the character of their ideals that took a stance against Nazism.