Could it ever be imagined that in a short span of less than 10 years, more than 11 million people have been locked up just to be exterminated?
Jews, Roma, communists, mentally disabled, non-Trinitarian Christians, but also Catholic priests and nuns and members of the nation’s underground resistance against the German occupation, political activists, a.o. were tattooed, hosed down, sheared of their hair and were apprehended to do forced labour in shifts of 12 hours, to be experimented on whilst most withered away before ending up in the crematoria.
Last Monday elderly Holocaust survivors gathered, for what could be the last time for them, to remember days of horror, but also that incredible day when 75 years ago they saw Soviet troops coming to the gates of their torture camp in Oswiecim, southern Poland, the concentration and death camp where Nazi Germany killed more than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews.
Israel held a high-profile Holocaust forum marking the liberation anniversary in Jerusalem on Thursday, seen as rivalling the event in Poland.
While senior figures such as US Vice President Mike Pence, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin were in Jerusalem, none of them seemed it appropriate to come to Poland.
The main guests of the commemoration were the 200 invited Holocaust survivors, who – disregarding the usual protocol – were able to occupy the front row at the commemoration event, ahead of the 61 foreign delegations, including more than thirty heads of state and government, as well as members of royal families.
The event in Poland was opened by Polish President Andrzej Duda, who was not invited to speak at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, declared:
“We are paying our respects to the six million Jews murdered in Auschwitz and elsewhere.”
Israel has said it didn’t offer Duda a speaking role because his country was not among World War II’s liberating nations. It said the German president was also being allowed to speak to take responsibility for the perpetrators.
Duda stressed the need to preserve Auschwitz’s memory so that
“the Holocaust, the extermination of the people in world history would never be repeated,”
and pledged on behalf of Poland to preserve the memory of what had happened during the Second World War.
At the Polish commemoration several survivors could bring memories of those days when they tried to survive and to stay a human being, keeping up with hope.
The Polish-born Israeli poet Batsheva Dagan, who had to sort out the belongings of those killed in Auschwitz, remembered she was holding Hungarian clothes, and even found a picture of one of her teachers from Lódz among the belongings of her fellow prisoners.
A Jewish historian from Poland, Marian Turski, and Stanislaw Zalewski, a Polish political prisoner who also survived Auschwitz, tried to those gathered at the gates of their hell, which today endures as the leading symbol of the terror of the Holocaust, to give a picture of what they endured in that place and how they tried not to become like animals.
Speeches of the survivors were followed by Roland S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), who talked on behalf of the organization.
The years going by fast, have brought a lot of extra documents and witnesses. It’s also clear that the volume of testimony has grown enormously in recent decades: the USC Shoah Foundation’s collection, for instance, now includes tens of thousands of video testimonies from Holocaust survivors and witnesses. So there’s a lot of material to go through, to try to put together some of these puzzle pieces and create a whole picture of the Holocaust.
But we should place everything in context and have a clear picture of what could bring our world so far to let such horror to happen. Only by knowing the history of what happened before and what were the effects of the aftermath of World War I and by keeping the remembrance as part of the necessity to keep this in the collective memory, we shall be able to safeguard our society so that such an inhuman event would not happen again.