Today is the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
The UN has designated it as Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Commemorations are held around the world, with different themes each year. Their purpose: to remember those who died, and promote universal human rights.
Auschwitz was made up of 48 concentration and extermination camps in German-occupied Poland. In 1944, there was an estimated 130,000 prisoners detained there.
On the day of liberation 74 years ago, Soviet soldiers found only 7,500 prisoners alive.
To hide the evidence of their cruelty, Nazis murdered many of the remaining prisoners in concentration camps. They also destroyed countless gas chambers, mass graves, and camp records. We still don’t know the full extent of the horrors that occurred.
It is estimated that 1-1.5 million people died in Auschwitz. All in all, six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust.
How we are remembering them
In Somerset, England, Captain Frank Foley (‘the British Schindler’) has been honored with a statue in his memory.
Foley worked as a British SIS officer and granted visas to 10,000 Jews who were fleeing Berlin.
To do this, he often overlooked rules requiring Jews to have financial guarantees and legitimate passports. Once, he even traveled to Sachsenhausen concentration camp to rescue a man named Gunter Powitzer from Nazi abuse.
When Foley’s statue was erected, Asher Rubin wrote from Israel, “Frank Foley saved me and my father, Gunter Powitzer. Foley’s efforts are responsible for the lives of our family.”
Foley passed in 1958, never revealing the secrets of his profession. Since then, he has been recognized internationally for his deeds.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke of Foley’s heroism at this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) event.
“We should reflect that it was not the state as a whole, but remarkable individuals like Frank Foley who did the right thing, made the correct moral choice, often in defiance of the rules,” Hunt said.
“So here I ask: what would each of us have done if we had been in his place?”
Why we remember
“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored.”
Robert H. Jackson, U.S. Chief of Counsel at the Nuremberg Trials, spoke pointedly about the Holocaust. He warned against allowing history to repeat itself.
Today, U.S. legislation has made an important advancement in preventing human rights violations.
On January 14, President Trump signed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act into law. The Act was introduced in 2017 and passed through the Senate and House of Representatives in late 2018.
It is aptly named after Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, a writer, professor and political activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
The Act states: “… it is U.S. policy to regard the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes as a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility.”
As we witness the ongoing suffering in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and other nations, it’s essential that we recognize the efforts to help, and employ our own efforts if possible.
The Syrian genocide alone has killed an estimated 500,000 people since 2011. In fact, a 2018 chemical attack on innocent women and children is comparable to the gassing of Jewish prisoners in the Holocaust.
Although the goal is to stop these conflicts before they happen, it is also our moral responsibility to try to put an end to them when they do. Global Citizen writes about how you can aid the victims of the Syrian crisis here.
Violence is not always preventable, but the Elie Wiesel Act is a step in the right direction. When we talk about the Holocaust, we are helping save future generations from the same fate.