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Why We Remember on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

“The LORD comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.”  (Isaiah 49:13)

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is also the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camps at the end of World War II.

Youth-Israeli Flag-Auschwitz

A group of youth draped in the Israeli flag visit Auschwitz.

On January 27, 1945, the Soviets entered this complex of camps, which included a concentration, extermination and forced labor camp, liberating more than 7,000 prisoners, most of whom were sick or dying.

Only 7,000 were left in the camp because the Nazis killed thousands in a fevered frenzy as the Soviets approached.

Then they began evacuating Auschwitz, forcing nearly 60,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, on a Death March in the cold of winter.  The marching prisoners suffered from starvation and exposure, and anyone who fell behind was shot.  Over half died.

Of the estimated 1.3 million people—at minimum—who were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, at least 1.1 million were murdered.  (ushmm)

Russian Jews-Selection-Auschwitz

Russian Jewish men await selection at Auschwitz, the largest camp established by the Germans.  After disembarking from the trains, being sent to the right meant forced labor.  Being sent to the left meant death in the gas chambers.  This camp was located 37 miles (60 km) west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border.

Remembering Holocaust Victims

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins.”  (Isaiah 51:3)

Today, Auschwitz remains a memorial to the millions whose lives were lost there.

To commemorate those who were murdered during the Holocaust, an unprecedented delegation of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) is in Auschwitz today taking part in Poland’s annual remembrance ceremony.

The delegation comprises 64 Members of Parliament (MK), including Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Education Minister Shai Piron, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, and Pensioners’ Affairs Minister Uri Orbach.  (JPost)

Chief Rabbi David Lau will also attend with a total of 250 dignitaries.

Yadvashem-Torchlighter-Martyr

A Holocaust survivor lights a torch at Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority).  Six torches are lit on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.  (Photo: Isaac Harari / Yad Vashem)

Before traveling to Poland, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein said he envisioned the event as having “the potential not just to be a memorial but to develop into a symposium for elected officials to discuss how the Holocaust and anything like it can never happen again.”  (JPost)

Also attending are famed author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and lawmakers from the US, Canada, UK, France, Sweden, Australia and other countries.

Thirty Israeli Holocaust survivors will join Israel’s MKs.

Such visits to Auschwitz by Holocaust survivors are emotional.

“To stand in this place with my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren—this is my sign of victory.  This for me is closure,” one survivor told Jonny Daniels, who organized the Knesset visit to the site.  (Fox)

Daniels-Huckabee-From the Depths

Mike Huckabee discusses the symbol of From the Depths with Jonny Daniels, founder and executive director of the organization.

In a recent interview on Fox News with Mike Huckabee, Daniels said, “We often hear ‘This can never happen again.’  The reason this can’t happen again is because we have our own state.  We’re a strong people now.  We have our own army.  We have our own government, and to be there in a symbol of force is a truly remarkable thing.”

Calling Auschwitz an “industrialized killing machine taking the lives of nearly 6,000 people a day,” Huckabee, who is also in Auschwitz today, told viewers that the camp claimed the lives of over a million Jews through mass exterminations, starvation, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

Huckabee closed the segment with Daniels by highlighting the “Star of David” emblem for Daniel’s organization, From the Depths, which works with Holocaust survivors around the world and seeks to build a brighter future by preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

Half of the symbol appears as the star worn by Jews during the Holocaust.  The other half reflects the strong lines of the star on Israel’s national flag.

Nazi-yellow badge-id badge

In November 1939, the Nazi government first introduced mandatory ID badges for Jews in Poland.  The yellow badge was considered to be one step in the Final Solution as it enabled them to isolate the Jews.  To enforce compliance, they announced, “Severe punishment is in store for Jews who do not wear the yellow badge on back and front.”  (Jewish Virtual Library)

Holocaust Survivors in Israel

About 200,000 Holocaust survivors live in the state of Israel today.

Many of them were children during the Second World War.  They experienced persecution, deportation, selection, forced labor, hunger, torture and the loss of families.

Following the war, they came to Israel and tried to live normal lives.  Not all were able.

For many, even more than 60 years after the war, the emotional scars are unmistakable.

Tattoo-Holocaust-Identity

People were stripped of their identity when they entered the camps, and a number was tattooed on their arm.

A significant number of survivors still suffer the effects of the trauma they experienced during the Holocaust.

Others were able to cover up their feelings for years, only to be confronted with them later when they were less busy with their work.

The result can be anxiety, depression, and other disorders.

As well, Holocaust survivors tend to be more vulnerable to the military tensions that exist in Israel.

Stress can bring latent anxieties to the surface.  Unfortunately, even in Israel the welfare and health services lack sufficient resources to deal with this problem.

“At least one Holocaust survivor an hour is dying in Israel and we are getting very close to the point where there will be no more first-hand accounts left,” Daniels said.  “The onus falls on us, not just as Jews and Israelis, but humanity as a whole, to learn, to be with the survivors and to understand what happened and to ensure it never repeats again.”  (From the Depths)

Prisoner-Wobbelin Concentration Camp

Former prisoners of the Wobbelin Concentration Camp in Germany are taken to a hospital for medical attention, after being rescued by troops of the 82nd Airborne Division.  Many prisoners were found almost starved to death.

A Response to Holocaust Denial: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Although Auschwitz was liberated some 69 years ago, the commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day began on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In 2005, in response to growing Holocaust denial worldwide, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/60/7) that rejected any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event “either in full or in part.”

It also rejected any manifestation of religious intolerance or the harassment or commitment of violence against groups because of ethnic origin or religious belief.

Ban Ki-Moon-mounds of shoes-Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial -Piotr M.A. Cywiński-State Museum

During a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon examines the mounds of shoes that belonged to Holocaust victims.

The resolution urged member states to develop educational materials that would “instill the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again.”

It also called upon the United Nations Secretary-General to establish an outreach program on the “Holocaust and the United Nations,” as well as to encourage the development of Holocaust remembrance programs so as to prevent future genocidal acts by other nations.

The United Nations noted that the Holocaust was a turning point in history.

The resolution, which calls for the remembrance of the crimes against the Jewish People, is the UN’s way of saying “never again.”

Map-Auschwitz

Map of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and environs, 1944.  Polish killing centers were deliberately situated along rail lines, and 44 parallel tracks led to Auschwitz.  (Jewish Virtual Library)

How the Nazi Killing Machines Developed

The theme for International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year is “Journeys through the Holocaust.”

It recalls the horrific journeys experienced by those who suffered through this period.

Typically victims were forced from their homes and herded into railway cattle cars.

Initially, however, the Germans used killing groups called Einsatzgruppen (task forces) to round up and massacre entire Jewish communities.

Liepaja-Massacres-jewish women

Jewish women are forced to disrobe and pose for the camera before being killed at the mass murder of 2,749 Jews on the beach near the city of Liepāja, in Latvia, on December 15 through 17, 1941.

Rivka Yosselevska, who testified at the trial of Adolph Eichmann in 1961, was one of a few who survived the Nazi massacre of 500 Zagrodzki ghetto Jews (near Pinsk in Belarus) in August 1942.

Yosselevska lost her daughter, mother, father and sister, as well as other relatives in the slaughter.

She said her daughter had asked her when they we were lined up in the ghetto, “Mother, why did you make me wear the Shabbat dress; we are being taken to be shot.”

Eichmann-Justice, Not Vengeance

Adolph Eichmann showed no remorse during his trial and said he was simply following orders.  “The world now understands the concept of ‘desk murderer.’  We know that one doesn’t need to be fanatical, sadistic, or mentally ill to murder millions; that it is enough to be a loyal follower eager to do one’s duty,” wrote Simon Wiesenthal in Justice, Not Vengeance.

At the mass grave, she asked, “Mother, why are we waiting?  Let us run!”

Yosselevska said, “Some of the young people tried to run, but they were caught immediately, and they were shot right there.  It was difficult to hold on to the children….  The suffering of the children was difficult; we all trudged along to come nearer to the place and to come nearer to the end of the torture of the children.”  (Jewish currents)

Although Yosselevska was shot in the head, she lived.  For three days, she lay among the dead.

The farmer who found her, hid and fed her.

He also helped her to join a group of Jews hiding in the forest where she managed to survive until the Soviet army arrived in 1944.

Eventually, the Nazis decided that shooting as a method of mass killing was too expensive and inefficient.  It required killing to be done one bullet at a time.  And it demoralized the troops.

Auschwitz-boxcar-transport Jews-extermination and concentration camps

A visitor to Auschwitz carries the Israeli flag as a group examines a boxcar used to transport Jews to extermination and concentration camps.

The Wannsee Conference Decides the Final Solution

In 1942, Nazi Party officials met near Berlin at the Wannsee Conference to discuss the “Final Solution” for the destruction of European Jewry.

There they coordinated the deportation of Europe’s Jews to extermination camps that were already operating or were under construction in German-occupied Poland.

As many as 11 million Jews were to be transported to these killing centers, including residents of countries not then under Nazi control, such as Ireland, Sweden, Turkey, and Great Britain.  (ushmm)

They decided that the mass transportation of these populations would be accomplished by train.

Birkenau-selection-Jewish ramp-Auschwitz

Selection of Jews at the Judenrampe (Jewish ramp) in Auschwitz-II (Birkenau) German Nazi death camp, May/June 1944.

The SS and the police coordinated with local auxiliaries or collaborators in occupied territories to round up the victims and transport them to the death centers.

In charge of all this was SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, who was later to meet his demise at the end of a rope in an Israeli prison.

To disguise their intentions, Nazi authorities referred to these deportations as “resettlements” to labor camps in the “East.”  In reality, they were killing centers for mass murder.

Auschwitz-railroad of death

During 1943 and 1944, the killing center at Auschwitz-Birkenau played a central role in the planned destruction of European Jewry.  Transports arrived on a regular schedule from every German-occupied country of Europe—from as far north as Norway to the Greek island of Rhodes off the coast of Turkey in the south, from the French slopes of the Pyrenees in the west to the easternmost reaches of German-occupied Poland and the Baltic states.  (ushmm)

Maus: Journeys Through the Holocaust

In his comic book, “Maus II,” Art Spiegelman described his father’s experiences during the Holocaust.

Spiegelman depicted how his father and hundreds of other prisoners were loaded onto a Nazi train.

“It was such a train for horses, for cows,” his father says.  “They pushed until it was no room left.  We lay one on top of the other, like matches, like herrings.  I pushed to a corner not to get crushed.”

Spiegelman’s father used the thin blanket he had received as a prisoner to create a hammock using hooks in the ceiling, climbing up on the shoulders of other inmates to reach it.

“In this way I can rest and breathe a little.  This saved me.  Maybe 25 people came out from this car of 200,” he states.

Maus

Maus comic book

He goes on to describe how the train suddenly stopped.  They stood sealed in the boxcars for days and nights on end without food or water.

There was no room to fall.  And if someone did, the others stood on them.  One inmate used a knife to try to free himself from those standing on him, but died anyway.

Spiegelman’s father survived by reaching through the window and grabbing snow from the roof.  He traded it for sugar, saving his life and theirs.

The train remained sealed for a week.

When his boxcar was finally opened, he saw that they were surrounded by other trains with boxcars that were never opened, everyone inside dying.  Then the car was resealed and continued on toward Dachau.  Those who were inside continued to die, and many went mad.

Killing centers German-Poland-Chelmno-Belzec-Sobibor-Auschwitz-Birkenau

Most Jews who were deported to the death camps were executed upon arrival.  A small number of prisoners were selected and kept alive to perform the necessary work in the camps.  Killing centers were set up in German-occupied Poland at Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Auschwitz-Birkenau (left side of the map).  This map does not show all extermination and concentration camps.  The drops of red on the map are places where Jews were massacred, and the stars indicate cities where the Jewish People were confined to tightly packed ghettos.

Blaming Those We Harm: When Will Jews Be Forgiven for the Holocaust?

In spite of the numerous eyewitness accounts to the horrendous events that took place during the Holocaust, many today still deny its very existence.

In response to this, last October in Jerusalem at the B’nai B’rith World Center, award-winning British novelist and columnist Howard Jacobson delivered an address called “When will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust?”

In it, he argued that those who deny the Holocaust are simply anti-Semites who hide behind criticism of Israel in order to disguise and excuse their guilt.

Crematorium memorial-Auschwitz

By early spring 1943 in Auschwitz II, four huge crematoria housed eight gas chambers and 46 ovens, which could dispose of about 4,400 corpses per day.  (PBS)

Jacobson, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2010 said:

“The shocking psychological truth is that man rejects the burden of guilt by turning the tables on those we have wronged and portraying ourselves as the victims of their suffering.

“The Roman historian Tacitus spells it out.  ‘It is part of human life,’ he wrote, ‘to hate the man you have hurt.’

“Those we harm, we blame—mobilizing dislike and even hatred in order to justify, after the event, the harm we did.  From which it must follow that those who are harmed the most, as in the case of the Shoah—are blamed the most.”

He said that those who look in the mirror and can’t face what they see smash the mirror in an attempt to regain their innocence.

Visitors-Auschwitz

Visitors to Auschwitz

Of the nine million Jews who lived in Europe before 1933, by 1945 only three million survived.

The loss of six million Jewish people in the Holocaust confirms that when anti-Semitism festers, the ultimate result can be catastrophic.

Today, as the specter of global anti-Semitism rises, we must go beyond solemn moments of remembrance and speak out against anti-Semitism.

We must never forget those who suffered during the Holocaust.

For the sake of the Jewish People and all people everywhere, we must never forget what happened so that it will never happen again.

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