The Guardian

WWII: eighty years on, the world is still haunted by a catastrophe foretold | Peter Beaumont

Shock greeted the news that German tanks had rolled into Poland on September 1, 1939. But the slaughter of the continent’s Jews that was to follow had long been signalled
In November 1938 a group of people stand outside a Jewish-owned shop in an unnamed German town after the Kristallnacht, a night of Nazi-incited mass riots against Jewish people and property. Photograph: AP

On 1 September 1939, as the massed German divisions began the invasion of Poland, one of the places that would be quickly overrun was a small and unprepossessing town on a railroad junction close to the Vistula river.

Named Oświęcim, within 10 months it would host the beginnings of the camp the world would know by its infamous German rechristening: Auschwitz.

Today, on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, it still prompts one of the most shaming questions of the war: why allied leaders, Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt most prominent among them, failed to prevent the mass slaughter of Europe’s Jews?

A pivotal moment in the development of international law and humanitarianism

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