Today, January 27, is “Holocaust Remembrance Day.” On November 1, 2005 UN General Assembly resolution 60/7 established this date as HRD to commemorate the date on which the last concentration camp was liberated. As most of you know, from 1933 to 1945 the Nazis murdered some six million Jews, roughly 2/3 of all European Jews, and millions of other “undesirables” such as communists, Gypsies, and dissidents, at these death camps.
The so-called “Final Solution” was a ruthless, highly-organized plan of extermination. I and many historians believe that the roots for the FS can be traced back to the 1920s. Largely due to harsh reparations and other penalties imposed by the allies following WWI Germany was suffering economic ruination. The average German was suffering and desperate. As has often been the case throughout history the Jews were an easy and convenient target to blame. The situation was ripe for the rise of a brutal dictator, who would promise to restore Germany to power and prominence, which is exactly what happened.
Despite the presence of ample of photographic evidence and eye witness accounts of these atrocities there are many who believe the historical accounts of the Holocaust are exaggerated or worse that it never took place at all. I fear, as do many historians and Jewish leaders, that these denials will increase the likelihood that it will be repeated. More on this below.
Below please find a brief timeline of the Nazis’ rise to power and the execution of the FS:
- February 24, 1920 – The Nazi Party, aka the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, is established in Munich, Germany.
- January 30, 1933 – Adolph Hitler is appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg.
- March 22, 1933 – The Nazis established the first death camp, Dachau. Some 188,000 prisoners would pass through the camp, and some 28,000 of them would be murdered.
- August 1934 – Von Hindenburg dies. Hitler abolishes the office of president and becomes dictator.
- November 8, 1938 – A nationwide pogrom known as Kristallnacht wreaks havoc on Germany’s Jews. Jewish synagogues, homes and businesses are destroyed, and thousands are killed or transported to death camps.
- May 1940 – Auschwitz, the largest and most notorious death camp of them all, is established. During the course of the war it is estimated that 1.3 million prisoners were transported there and 1.1 million of them were murdered.
- January 20,1942 – The Wannsee Conference was convened in Berlin at which high-ranking Nazis hammered out the plans for the implementation of the “Final Solution.”
- January 27, 1945 – Auschwitz-Birkenau, was the last camp to be liberated by allied troops.
As I mentioned above, despite the best efforts of the Jewish community and despite the undeniable evidence of photos and eye witness accounts, as time has gone by knowledge of the Holocaust has faded. There are many reasons for this, too many to discuss here, but suffice to say it is a fact and a real problem.
For example, consider a recent survey by NBC News, which reported:
- 10% of respondents “did not recall ever having heard the word, ‘Holocaust’ ” before.
- The survey disclosed a “worrying lack of knowledge,” in general, with respect to the Holocaust among adults under 40.
- Almost 50% of the respondents could not name a single concentration camp.
- Holocaust education has been inadequate. Unbelievably, nearly 40% of the respondents did not even know that it had occurred during WWII. 22% thought it had occurred during WWI. Others thought the Civil War or the Vietnam War.
Needless to say, these results are very disturbing. Gary Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, cautioned “if we let these trends continue for another generation the crucial lessons from this terrible part of history could be lost.” I agree.
As time passes and the survivors die off memories will likely fade. Already a cadre of “Holocaust deniers” have been claiming that the Holocaust never happened. This is most disturbing to Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University in Atlanta who considers Holocaust denial a “form of anti-Semitism.” She adds that the lessons of the Holocaust remain very relevant today not only with respect to understanding anti-Semitism but also “all the other “isms’ of society.” Again, I agree.
History, tells us that anti-Semitism has been omnipresent, sometimes overt and sometimes covert, but always lurking, waiting for a chance to rear its ugly head. The primary lesson of the Holocaust for Jews – remain ever vigilant, never forget, and never let others forget.