Living Church - Contribute to help UCA News
Living Church - Contribute to help UCA News
Living Church - Contribute to help UCA News
Living Church - Contribute to help UCA News
UCA News


From enlightenment to death camps

Weimar's cultural heritage could not prevent it from becoming a base for evil Nazi atrocities

From enlightenment to death camps

A prisoner dying of dysentery at the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald peers out from his bunk in April 1945 upon the liberation of the camp by Allied troops. (Photo: AFP)

Weimar is a city in central Germany that has had a glorious history marred by a terrible past. It is a small city where respect for and promotion of human rights are celebrated and rewarded.

On International Human Rights Day, the city presents the prestigious Weimar Human Rights Award to those recognized and lauded for their commitment and work in defending and promoting the rights of the people most vulnerable and at risk of rights violations around the world.

This year, two courageous women from Africa — Laila Fakhouri of Sahrawi, Western Sahara, and Ihsan Fagiri from Sudan — received the award. Fakhouri works for the liberation of Western Sahara from occupation by Morocco, while Fagiri is a women’s rights activist.

Weimar is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the award and invited back previous winners, including myself, to speak on human rights. We talked about the expansion of the greatest form of human rights violations after war — human trafficking and modern human enslavement.

The greatest historical achievement of Weimar was the cultural heritage formed during a period of enlightenment, and the creation of brilliant literature, music and political progress in the 19th century.
Stories Transform Lives
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors.

In the past, the city with a population today of 65,000 attracted the likes of Martin Luther, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, whose poems inspired Beethoven to write the 9th Symphony, with the Ode to Joy now being the European Union’s anthem.

The great composer and pianist Franz Liszt made Weimar his home, as did many other famous people. It was the city where the first democratic constitution was proclaimed and signed after World War I in 1918.

Germany as a democracy was known as the Weimar Republic and its capital was Weimar, Berlin being too dangerous. By 1929 a new dangerous ideology had emerged in the city and it became a center of Nazism and the home of its national socialist philosophy and propaganda center.

This was the beginning of the decline of the city as a beacon of an enlightened cultural heritage.

The Nazis controlled the city and built several death camps in the area. In 1937, they built the Buchenwald extermination camp eight kilometers from Weimar.

As many as 240,000 people were imprisoned there — political opponents, prisoners of war, gypsies and Jewish people. As many as 56,545 were exterminated and burned in ovens in the basement of the camp’s extermination building.

Viewing huge enlarged photos of piles of emaciated skeletal bodies, I felt sick. How could humans do this to fellow human beings? They did, by shooting them in the head through a hole in the wall where they stood to be measured or by hanging them on meat hooks with wire around their necks.

Other prisoners were used as slave labor making weapons for the German military in the Wilhelm Gustioff factory.

When the US Army liberated the camp and discovered the thousands of slaughtered bodies in huge piles, they brought the people of the city to see the bodies and the starving survivors.

The Weimar Human Rights Award was established 25 years ago to honor human rights defenders and to acknowledge the commitment of the people of Weimar not to repeat such crimes.

State-approved sex slavery

Slavery and abuse continue today in many more countries.

In Myanmar, the Rohingya people are suffering genocide and former human rights defender Aung San Suu Kyi, in a statement at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, has turned to support the military against accusations of genocide.

The sale of human beings by traffickers into sex slavery is an atrocious rights violation. This kind of slavery is not the same as human exploitation of the past, but it is very much with us today in our world, and it is greater than it ever was.

Sex tourism and online child sexual exploitation are contributing to the expanding sex trade. This insidious form of human trafficking is evil because it is aided, abetted and approved by the government itself in the case of the Philippines. The state gives permits, earns money and supports the sex industry and thereby encourages and accelerates human trafficking.

Every town has a red-light district with sex bars operating with business permits and licenses issued by the mayor. It is a huge earner of revenue for a town or city.

The human traffickers act with impunity and force a steady supply of vulnerable, impoverished and needy young girls from the poorest of provinces and city slums into prostitution.

Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines and yet hundreds of thousands are trafficked and sexually exploited in the commercial sex industry.
Wherever this is happening in the world, let it be known that the salaries of public officials and public services are funded in part by the proceeds of human trafficking and slavery. This is despite strong laws forbidding human trafficking and enslavement, laws which are seldom implemented or enforced.

Human rights defenders oppose this slavery and abuse of women and children, and we must unite to stand against it and uphold the rights and dignity of oppressed and enslaved women and children.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.

UCA Newsletter
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter

Also Read

UCA News Podcast
Contribute and get the Mission in Asia PDF Book/e-Book Free!
Contribute and get the Mission in Asia PDF Book/e-Book Free!
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia