Today we mark the liberation of Auschwitz with a day devoted to memorializing the events and victims of the Holocaust.
Sixty-nine years ago, soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front pried open the gates of Auschwitz. They were greeted as liberators by the 7,000 or so prisoners who were among the walking dead remaining within the camp at war’s end.
The liberation of Auschwitz was the first tangible step toward a fuller reckoning of what the Nazis had achieved in the relatively short span of just over five years of World War II.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a relatively new observance, however, having been voted into existence by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005.As time passes and memory fades, this day of commemoration and others like it will surely play an important role in ensuring that the history of the Holocaust and the memory of the six million is not forgotten.
Holocaust remembrance is more necessary than one would perhaps assume in this day and age.
In the 21st century, as memories of the war fade and the number of living Holocaust survivors dwindles, there are many threats to the memory and history of the Shoah.Holocaust deniers -- those most insidious of anti-Semites -- have long posited that the camps were a fabrication and that the figure of six million Jews killed is inflated.Deceptive web sites challenge the history of the Shoah.In the United States, politicians and pundits trivialize the Holocaust with inappropriate comparisons of the Nazis or Hitler to efforts to control guns or to attack political opponents on a range of other issues.
And historical revisionists -- most recently in some European countries -- have recently attempted to rewrite or distort history to escape blame, point the finger at others or to gain political advantage.This is a troubling development, for if Europeans cannot have a true understanding of and reckoning with their own history, who will?
In Hungary’s parliament, a member from the neo-Nazi Jobbik party said during a debate last year on Holocaust education that the state museum at Auschwitz “may not reflect the real facts of history.”In Greece, the leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, the third largest in parliament, denied on television that gas chambers existed at Auschwitz.
More mainstream European politicians have also distorted Holocaust history -- whether out of ignorance, malice, or political calculation.A Romanian senator said “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory,” though he later apologized after a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
On January 16, a Belgian parliamentarian claimed that “Zionists” organized and financed the Holocaust.And just days ago, Hungary’s prime minister appeared to reject Hungarian state’s responsibility for the persecution of Hungarian Jews. Defending a planned memorial for the German occupation of Hungary, he referred to Hungary’s loss of sovereignty following the Nazi invasion, despite the clear historical facts that Hungary’s Jews were persecuted, deported and murdered both before and after the invasion and by Hungarian state officials in both periods.
In France, the hit song of a popular comedian mocks the victims of the Holocaust.Dieudonne’s “Shoahnanas,” a mash-up of “Shoah” (the Holocaust term used in France) and “ananas” (pineapple in French), refers to Jews as pineapples and accuses them of using the Holocaust “as a way to make money” with “millions of dollars for the millions of pineapples that were deported.”The video was viewed by more than a million people before YouTube pulled it last week.
With each anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the number of survivors to provide firsthand witness diminishes.The challenges to Holocaust remembrance do not.In fact, with the Internet, they have only multiplied, now that deniers and distorters have instant global reach.
A commitment to remembrance obligates us to speak out against those who would trivialize, distort or deny the Holocaust and to inoculate the public against their poison through awareness and education.
Today we stop to reflect and to commemorate, but we bear the obligations of remembrance every day.