A day to remember the Holocaust


A day to remember the HolocaustLast week marked the 62nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz –Birkenau extermination camp in southern Poland by the Soviet armed forces, which took place on January 27, 1945. At the behest of the UN and the initiative of the former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, the United Nations has asked the international community to designate the anniversary of the liberation as a day for commemoration.

Today there are only a few survivors who have adult memories of Auschwitz. Soon there will be none. This makes it all the more important that the memory of what happened there is preserved. In part through commerative events such as those that took place last week.

More than one million people in cold blood as part of the calculated campaign of extermination that is now called the Holocaust.

The world now knows that when Hitler told the Reichstag on the 30th of January, 1939, that a second world war would end with Vernichtung die Judische rasse in Europa, (the extermination of the Jews in Europe), he meant it. The overwhelming majority of those killed in camps were Jews, transported in freight cars to the site form almost country in Europe, to be exterminated in gas chambers or worked to death in near by mines and factories, their bodies incinerated, and their ashes thrown into a lake.

The total number killed in the seventeen extermination camps was at least 3.2 million, and possibly 3.8 million. These camps thus accounted for about half the total number of Jews killed in the entire Nazi Holocaust. Virtually the whole Jewish population of Poland died there. To them were added Jews from the Czech and Slovak lands, from France and Belgium and the Netherlands, from Greece and Italy, Romania and Serbia. Finally in late 1944, 400,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz following the German occupation of Hungary. In addition, in the Nazi occupied Soviet Union, including the Baltic Shores, had more than 1 million Jews were killed on the spot by the Einsatzgruppen.

A day to remember the HolocaustAt Auschwitz, as the Red Army approached, the SS evacuated the camp on January 17 and 18 1945. Tens of thousands of prisoners were marched westwards through the freezing landscape to other camps, such as Gross-Rosen, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald in Germany.

Thousands of freezing, half-starved prisoners died in the snow in these futile marches.

On January 27, 1945, soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of Marshall Ivan Koniev, reached the town of Auschwitz.

Only about 7,000 prisoners were still in the Auschwitz and Birikenau camps, whose barracks had once housed 200,000 prisoners at a time. Most were Polish forced Labourers rather than Jews sent to the camp for extermination. The Jews were almost all long dead. The Soviets thus gained a misleading impression of what had gone on at Auschwitz and it was some years before the full truth emerged.

Some governments, such as those of Bulgaria and Finland, did refuse to co-operate with the Nazis. In some countries, such as Denmark, the Jews were saved through swift action by the non-Jewish population. In the Netherlands, there was a general strike in protest against the deportation of Jews. In France and Italy and Greece, the resistance tried to save Jews and many more were hidden by courageous non-Jewish families. Even in the heart of darkness in Nazi occupied Poland, many brave Catholic Poles, including the late Pope John Paul II, risked their lives to help and rescue Jews.

Nevertheless, the Holocaust killed 55 per cent of the 11 million Jews in Europe (including the Soviet Union) in 1939 and 35 per cent of all the Jews in the world. The heart of the Yiddish-speaking Jewry of central and Eastern Europe was destroyed, bringing to an end centuries of Jewish history and culture in the region.

A day to remember the Holocaust The repercussions of these terrible events have echoed through post-war history. The state of Israel came into existence because there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, languishing in camps throughout Europe with nowhere to go, and because the experiences of the Holocaust gave the Zionist movement a determination to prevail over the British, and the Arab states, in the creation and subsequent defence of the Jewish state - Israel.

Twelve years ago, one of the best-known survivors of Auschwitz, Elie Weisel, spoke at the site of the camp, as others will speak there this week. "As we reflect upon the past," he said then, "we must address ourselves to the present and the future. In the name of all that is sacred in memory, let us stop the bloodshed in Bosnia, Rwanda and Chechnya; the terror attacks against Jews in the Holy Land. Let us reject and oppose more effectively religious fanaticism and racial hate."

Today we could add Darfur in Sudan and Iraq and Somalia to that list. It is sometimes difficult to be optimistic about the future when we look back over the bloodstained history of the last century.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust died in vain. Their memorial is the modern State of Israel, the patrimony of the dead.



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Existing comments

"The total number killed in the seventeen extermination camps was at least 3.2 million, and possibly 3.8 million." Right. Yeah. What's the difference between 3.2 and 3.8 million? Only 600,000. Yeah, thats not that big of a deal. It's only 600 thousand lives. Don't you think you should be more accurate than that? I mean... 600,000 is a HUGE gap.
Brittany | 23 April 2007

Brittany - due to the incomprehendible numbers that are being referred to, the circumstances in which the eradication took place, the fact that the camps were kept completely under wraps (as evidenced by the fact that the real truth about them only came out years later), and the way all information has been pieced together since the events, they literally do not know the exact numbers. i think you should really focus on the idea of 1mil, 2mil, 3million plus people being killed in cold blood - appreciate the gravity of that rather than making criticism.
Anthony | 23 March 2008

I'm a Grade 9 From South Africa and I'm doing a project on the holocaust. It's such a horrid thing, how could one person do that to so many people. The pictures are depressing.
Jessica | 06 May 2008

Debts incurred and lives lost to extricate the Jews from their global plight suggest that Jews owe the world much more than the world has paid them in reparations for the harm done them. They owe their vigilence, their wisdom and their voice to prevent exploitation of other peoples, in war or in business which helps to bring about war. If they choose only to take rather than to share that wisdom and that sense of human protection, who would?
Pat | 16 January 2009

PALESTINE: The world's largest holocaust museum.
How someone can write this article without any reference to the Palestinian people who have lost their lands, their lives and lots more? It seems to be very subjective.

Damien | 20 March 2009

Elie Weisel didn't have much to say about the Palestinians in Gaza, did he? Perhaps he doesn't know they exist - or hopes that they won't exist for much longer.
Faustidious | 13 May 2009


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