“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even though I don’t feel it.
I believe in God, even when he is silent.”
Anonymous poem scratched on to a wall in Auschwitz
By a victim of the Holocaust
On January 27th, 1945 the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp that later on became the symbol of the Holocaust. Major Anatoly Shapiro from the 100th division was the first to open the gates of the camp. Shapiro, a Soviet soldier from the Ukrainian unit was a Jew and was the first to enter the death camp designated to eliminate its people from over the world.
The infamous “Work Sets You Free /Arbeit Macht Frei” was placed over the entrance. As they entered the camp, they found the horrors of the Nazi crimes in front of them.
The smell is the first thing that Shapiro recalled. The intolerable and inexplicable smell. There were corpses, blood and excreta everywhere. They saw skeletonlike persons in white-gray uniform without shoes, in a snowy cold January. They said that the Soviet army came to rescue them. There was no reaction. They prepared some light food for them, but they could not eat it and some died as their stomach was not functioning normally anymore.
The smell of ashes was the first thing that stuck the Soviet soldier Ivan Martynushkin as well. As Shapiro, he did not know the existence of these camps either. He was shocked with what they saw there. “It was hard to watch them,” he remembered, and he could not forget “their eyes which betrayed their ordeal.”
They found 7,000 Jews in the camp; the ones that were too weak or too ill to walk were left behind. And 600 corpses. A week earlier the Nazis had evacuated Auschwitz as they had realized that they were defeated. Known as the “death march” they forced 58,000 prisoners to walk to another camp, a camp that was over hundreds of kilometers away. Hungry, tired, weak, undressed in subzero temperatures…
Prior to that retreat, Nazis blown up parts of the camp to destroy all evidence. But to erase all this cruelty was impossible. The Soviet troops found 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, 7,7 tons of human hair. Journalists Usher Margulis and Gennady Savin who entered the camp after the soldiers told that they found huge piles of children clothes, boxes filled with golden dentures. They saw boxes with women's bags, lampshades, wallets, purses and other leather items. A lady explained to them; “All this is made from human skin.”
As Roman Kent, a Holocaust survivor told; “A minute in Auschwitz was like an entire day, a day was like a year, and a month an eternity.”
With their rise to power, the Nazis gradually restricted the rights and liberty of Jewish citizens. Exclusion from the public life started with the requirement to wear the yellow Star of David with the word Jude (German for Jew). The hostility towards the Jews increased in Germany. Acts of violence and destruction against Jewish properties were encouraged. Placards saying "Jews not admitted" began to appear all over the country. In 1935, with the Nuremberg Laws Jews could no longer be German citizens and marry a person from Aryan race.
Kristallnacht (German for crystal night), also called Night of Broken Glass, took place on November 9-10, 1938. Germans attacked Jewish persons and property; 7,500 Jewish shops were destroyed and 400 synagogues were burnt down. 91 Jews were killed and 20,000 were sent to concentration camps. Jews were forced to live in ghettos and labor camps. Then they were sent to death camps where they were murdered with special facilities designed especially to kill as much as possible over a brief period of time.
During the Holocaust 6 million Jews died. This is the two-thirds of the European Jewish population. 6 million who were taken out of their daily life, separated from their loved ones, became just a five digit number, forced to work and live in the upmost inhuman conditions, experimented on, and killed in cold blood.
Holocaust is a reminder of what men can do to each other. Holocaust is different since a state has never systematically separated and killed a group of people in such large numbers, with special killing machines, with such an organization and determination.
Holocaust is a dark page in the history and it is dangerous not only for the Jews but also for humanity. This is why we have to learn a lesson from this atrocity. We have to remember this tragedy and prevent its reoccurrence. The movements of hatred, or any movements of hatred for that matter must not be tolerated.
In 2005, The United Nations designated January 27th, the date Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated by the Soviet Army, as an annual international day of commemoration in memory of the Holocaust victims. Turkey commemorates the International Holocaust Remembrance Day since 2011.
In Israel, 27 Nisan in Hebrew calendar is marked as Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah, the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism. This year it will be observed on April 16th, 2015. The date was selected by the Israeli parliament on April 12nd, 1951. The day is marked in Israel with several ceremonies and the national flag flies at half. With the sound of siren people cease all activity and the traffic stops for two minutes at sundown and once again in the morning around 11 A.M. It is customary to light candles to the memory of the victims.
The day is a tribute to the dead. Remembering those who lost their lives is important. But to learn a lesson so the next generations can avoid this tragedy to occur again is much more important. At the Holocaust commemorations two words are repeated: Never Again. These words are a promise to past and to future generations that we will do everything to ensure a new Holocaust is not repeated, for anybody. Never again!
Karel Valansi - Diplomatic Observer April 2015 issue