believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
in love, even though I don’t feel it.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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