Sixty seven years (67) ago the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in what is now Poland were liberated by Soviet Forces. Although it took some 60 years the United Nations General Assembly declared today as an International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Auschwitz was the seventh and the largest of the concentration camps of Hitler’s Germany in World War II and became the political, economic and cultural centre for his goal of “Strengthening of German Nationhood” and the “Final Solution”. From the time the camp opened in April 1940 and January 27, 1945, when the camp was liberated, some three (3) million people were murdered, the majority (2.5 M) were gassed and the remaining died either of disease or starvation. The Holocaust in its entirety saw close to six million European Jews exterminated plus millions of others including Gypsies, homosexuals and political prisoners from various countries murdered. Say nothing of all the civilians and soldiers who lost their lives in this war
As would be expected the political leaders in countries across the world have recognized this day and the importance of remembering the horrific acts against humanity and the need to be attentive about nothing of this magnitude happening again.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted: “As we mourn those who were murdered by the Nazis more than six decades ago and honour the legacy of those who survived, let us use the lessons of the past to remind us of the importance of tolerance, and inspire us to take a stand against hatred and discrimination, including anti-Semitism in all its forms. We must never allow the crimes of the past to be repeated or forgotten.”
President Obama of the United States stated: “We dedicate ourselves to giving meaning to those powerful words: Never Forget Never Again. As we celebrate the strength and resilience of survivors we pledge to stand strong against all those who would commit atrocities against the resurgence of anti-Semitism and against hatred in all forms”.
I was interested in what the European Parliament president Martin Schultz expressed as his belief that: “I feel that I have a very specific responsibility because what was decided at the so-called Wannsee Conference – the extermination of the Jewish people- was done in the name of the German people. The German people of today is not guilty (of the Holocaust) but responsible for keeping the memory alive, for me this means that whoever is representing the German nation has one important duty, -to take into account our responsibility for the Jews in the world”. From this year forward this day of commemoration is now an official annual event of the European Parliament.
Turkey also recognized this day of remembrance and is the first Muslim country to screen an iconic holocaust documentary, Shoah on national television in an attempt to increase awareness of the Holocaust and to encourage tolerance of diversity. Many other leaders and political representatives commented or made statements to recognize the Holocaust.
I was particularly fascinated by a news story about the apology made by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway. As he stated: “Norwegians carried out the arrests; Norwegians drove the trucks and it happened in Norway. Today I feel it is fitting to express our deepest apologies that this could happen on Norwegian soil. It is time to acknowledge that Norwegian policemen, civil servants and other Norwegians took part in the arrest and deportation of Jews. I regret to say that the ideas that led to the Holocaust are still very much alive today, 70 years later. All over the world we see that individuals and groups are spreading intolerance and fear.”[i]
Another interesting finding in my examination of the news about this day of remembrance is a poll conducted in Germany that found that one in five young (18-29 years of age) Germans has no knowledge that Auschwitz was a German Nazi death camp[ii]
All of this is very intriguing.
I have written a number of posts (Learning Lessons?; October 25, 2011; Choice: Wonderful of Not?; October 27, 2011; Choice in Present Times; October 28, 2011) where I have talked about the Holocaust and specifically about the events in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.
Reflecting on this incident in our history once again raises a number of questions for me. Have we learned anything from our awareness of what happened in this dark time of the 20th century? How much do we know about the Holocaust and how much are we telling our children about it? If we reflect on the events, what impact does this have if anything on the choices that we make today? How do we as humans deal with the knowledge that humans can be so cruel? How do we come to terms with the violence and the atrocities of the Holocaust? How do we justify war and its impacts on humans and the planet?
I have other questions about the recognition of this day by current world leader. How sincere are the politicians of today about not wanting any more violence or atrocities to occur in our world? How do we reconcile the call for non-violence with the violence that continues to be perpetrated today, some by the same leaders? How do we justify the wars that continue to put innocent people at risk and continue to murder many?
These are big questions and ones that trouble me immensely. I had no idea that today was the International Holocaust Remembrance Day until I happened across a headline in Google news. There was no mention in the free local newspaper and I do not know what kind of coverage was given to this day in the daily newspapers across the country. Nonetheless I think this day will go by unnoticed and remembered by few.
This troubles me as well. How can something so significant in our history and that has had such major impact on the psyche of the western world, albeit somewhat hidden or ignored, be overlooked? How do we move forward and to a world of peace if we continue to bury our heads in the sand?
Irene McDermott © 2012