Forty years ago the Auschwitz extermination camp established by the German occupiers of Poland was liberated by Soviet armed forces, and the first graphic evidence of some of the horrors committed there by the Hitler regime was revealed to the world. An estimated 4 million people had been murdered at Auschwitz. Many were killed by poison gas. Others died of torture, starvation and disease. Thousands more were made the sacrificial victims of groteseque medical experiments. The man chiefly responsible for these hideous outrages, Dr. Josef Mengele, has never been brought to justice.
An international board of inquiry meeting in Jerusalem last week heard an almost unbearably painful but necessary recounting of some of the crimes against humanity committed by Mengele at Auschwitz. The testifiers came from among his surviving victims. All of them carry the scars and deformities of the abuse they endured. All of them suffer still from the ineradicable nightmare they were forced to undergo.
Why, four decades later, should the capture of Auschwitz be recalled, and why should those who underwent its torments be asked to recall the terrors of the past? For the same reason that the Allied invasion of France was celebrated last year, and for the same reason that the anniversary of the collapse of the Nazi state will be commemorated a few months from now: Because the occasion merits remembrance for its own sake, and because the world dare not let itself forget.
There is a further reason, though, in the matter of Auschwitz. So far as anyone knows, Mengele still lives. Like many Nazi war criminals, he had carefully prepared for a flight from retribution. For years, he is known to have found haven in Paraguay; once Israeli intelligence agents came close to killing him. Perhaps he is still in Paraguay or, as has been rumored often over the years, somewhere else in South America. Other major Nazi war criminals with the money to buy protection also found asylum there. One, Adolf Eichmann, eventually was brought to justice in Jerusalem in 1961. Another, Klaus Barbie, now awaits trial in a French prison.
A few weeks ago the possibility was raised that Mengele had been arrested in 1947 by American intelligence officials in Vienna, only to be let go. Atty. Gen. William French Smith has now ordered a full investigaton of these allegations. This inquiry, however much or little it may reveal, is not likely to lead to Mengele's capture. It nonetheless must be pursued, if only so that a more complete record can be written. Auschwitz stands for what is most infamous in human behavior, and Mengele stands as the personification of that monstrous evil. This generation and future ones must not forget.