This spring 2010 marks some sordid anniversaries: 65 years since the discovery of the Nazi concentration camps that facilitated the slaughter of six million Jews and four million various others deemed “misfits” and “undesirables” by Hitler and his henchmen.
The ugly footage of corpses left behind is a visual reminder of the in-your-face insanity and inhumanity of Nazi fascism. Yet, less obvious is how seamlessly that form of totalitarianism was supplanted by another, one that haunted the scene even longer. For much of Europe in the spring of 1945, an Iron Curtain quickly descended across the continent, as Central and Eastern Europe was again gobbled up, this time by vicious Soviets who replaced vicious Nazis.
That changing of the guard took place at the level of the soldiers, the secret police, the local officials and, yes, even the concentration camps themselves.
Consider: When Hitler’s goons fled the concentration camps at the site of Allied guns in the spring of 1945, it was left to the Allies—the United States, the United Kingdom and the USSR—to grapple with what they suddenly confronted. Once the survivors were freed and carefully transported, what would the Allies do with the camps?
For nations like America and Britain, steeped in Judeo-Christian notions of fairness and justice, the options for the camps ranged from the legal, meaning document them as evidence of Nazi war crimes for the Nuremberg trials, to the theological: exorcise them.
For the USSR, however, the next step was a no-brainer: use the camps. Indeed, fling the doors open and get ‘em back in business. The communists were not about to waste a perfectly functional, German-built concentration camp. If the Soviet system knew how to do one thing, it was to collectivize and redistribute squalor and death.
In truth, that unique Soviet solution ought not to be a surprise, as totalitarians like Vladimir Lenin had not only constructed similar facilities but had used the phrase “concentration camp” two decades before Hitler appropriated the term. Lenin’s replacement, Joe Stalin, had annihilated tens of millions in such camps well before Hitler ramped up.
Thus, in the spring of 1945, the Russians saw an opening at the Nazi camps, tailor-fit to communist ideology.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."