Saturday, January 27, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This date was designated IHRD by UN resolution in November, 2005 as an international memorial day on which we commemorate the heinous crimes of the Holocaust. The Resolution not only encourages every member country to honor the memory of the victims, but also to develop educational programs regarding the Holocaust. In addition, it outright rejects any notion of denial. The goal is for us to remember, so, hopefully, it will never happen again. Needless to say, compliance varies considerably from country to country.
As most of you know, the Holocaust, perpetrated by the Nazis and their supporters, was responsible for the brutal genocidal murders of some six million Jews, 200,000 Romanis (Gypsies), 250,000 mentally and physically disabled persons and 9,000 homosexuals, all of which the Nazis considered “sub-human.” The significance of January 27 is that it was on that date in 1945 that the Russian Army liberated Auschwitz, the largest and most notorious of the death camps. Some 1.1 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz alone.
IHRD is commemorated in many countries, including Israel, the US, England, Austria, Italy, and Germany. Typically, these commemorations include speeches of support by politicians, solemn prayers, and participation by survivors, sometimes garbed in striped scarves. For example, President Trump’s message included a pledge to “confront anti-Semitism… stamp out prejudice [and] condemn hatred.” In Poland Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended a solemn ceremony commemorating the tragic Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto at which he exhorted people to “never be indifferent to the face of evil.” Similar sentiments were expressed by dignitaries all over the world.
On this solemn occasion we should be mindful that extreme right wing/anti-Semitic sentiment has been on the rise in many areas. For instance:
- The substantial emigration of Muslims to virtually every Western European country has added to the anti-Semitic sentiment in those countries.
- In Germany the AfD party has made significant gains in the country’s Parliament. German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed this in a recent podcast, labeling it “incomprehensible and a disgrace that no Jewish institution can exist [in Germany]without police security.” A recent Time Magazine article denoted that German Jews feel increasingly threatened by hate groups. It has been widely reported that Jews in other countries, such as France, England and Sweden have expressed similar fears. Emigration to Israel is on the rise.
- In Austria the so-called Freedom Party is actually part of the governing coalition.
- Holocaust revisionism is alive and well in Poland. Many Poles are very sensitive to what they feel is an overly negative perception of their conduct toward Jews during WWII. As I write this, the Polish legislature is considering a law that, essentially, would outlaw anything that casts blame on the Polish Nation for atrocities committed in the Holocaust. It would mandate prison for anyone who makes any mention of “Polish complicity” in the Holocaust or makes reference to “Polish death camps.” The proposal is expected to become law. (Some may consider this proposed law akin to the plot of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, about a dystopian society in which the autocratic government kept revising history at its whim.) Many people are outraged. Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction was typical. He said Israel has “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.” Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister for Education and Diaspora Affairs, goes further. He said “it is a historical fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them, and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust.” Students of history know that although there were some sympathetic, even heroic, Poles who aided Jews, there were many more who collaborated with the Nazis or were indifferent.
Recently, BBC News has reported the remarkable discovery of an Auschwitz inmate’s journal, which provides chilling first-hand testimony of life in the camp. Apparently, the author, a Greek Jew named Marcel Nadjari, was one of the “Sonderkommando.” These were Jews whom the SS forced to perform certain grisly tasks, such as escorting Jews to the gas chambers, “packed in like sardines,” burn the dead bodies afterwards, collect valuables, such as hair and gold fillings, and discard the ashes into a nearby river.
Nadjari’s description of the gassings is chilling.
- The SS installed pipes in the gas chambers to make it look like a shower room.
- The SS delivered the canisters in a Red Cross vehicle.
- After the people entered the “shower,” they dropped in the gas.
- After all the victims were dead they recovered the hair, gold fillings and other valuables and transported the bodies to the ovens where they were burned. The ashes of a typical adult weighed a mere 1.4 pounds.
As the war wound down, Nadjari figured that as a witness he would be murdered, so in November 1944 he stuffed his 13 page manuscript in a thermos, sealed it as best he could, and buried it near one of the crematoriums, hoping it would be discovered, eventually. And, now, it has been.
Nadjari survived the war. Eventually, he emigrated to Israel, changed his name to Leon Cohen, married and raised a family. He died in 1989. However, he left behind a chilling first-hand account, which provides further insights into life (and death) at Auschwitz, as well as further evidence to contradict the false narrative of the “deniers.”
As the WWII generation dies off it becomes more and more critical for succeeding generations to keep the memories alive. The world must NEVER FORGET the Holocaust, or someday it will be doomed to repeat it.