On January 27, 1945 Auschwitz was finally liberated. A few months later Nazi Germany would be defeated and World War II would be over. Ever since, Auschwitz is more than a spot on the map.
Auschwitz was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps.
Auschwitz was a death machine of industrial scale
At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90% of them Jewish. We know today that approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died in Auschwitz. Other human beings deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals.
Auschwitz was meticulously engineered, ruthlessly planned and executed and mercilessly pursued dehumanization.
For example, a prisoner’s day would begin at 4 o’clock in the morning. Working days lasted 12 hours, without break. Various German industrial enterprises, such as Krupp and Siemens-Schuckert, built factories with their own sub camps. There were 45 such satellite camps, 28 of which served corporations involved in the armaments industry. Prisoner populations ranged from several dozen to several thousand.
As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was evacuated and sent on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on January 27, 1945, the day we now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Reading about Auschwitz is horrific. It’s horrific to be confronted with the evil that humans were able to create. It’s horrific to imagine what the prisoners, our fellow human beings, must have felt; what they must have endured physically and mentally. Reading about Auschwitz, learning about details of the concentration and extermination camps is shocking and unfathomable.
It has never taken me longer to write these sentences. I think more than I type; I feel more than write; my soul aches as I search for words – all words I come up with seem inappropriate.
Xenophobia. Antisemitism. Racism. Hatred. They bring out the absolute worst in human beings. Xenophobia. Antisemitism. Racism. Hatred. They not only dehumanize their victim, they also turn the person who harbors racists, antisemitic, xenophobic hatred into an inhuman being – devoid of empathy, compassion, loving-kindness; incapable of recognizing kinship.
Never, ever again
It’s 71 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. Auschwitz today is the symbol of the Holocaust, the symbol of genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, 2 million Roma, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
I feel a pain deep in my soul, thinking about these people, my fellow humans. In my soul, I feel how humanity collapsed and evil took over. I feel the urge to reinvigorate the “never, ever again” that we have all uttered and thought and promised one another.
But we must come to terms with another sad dimension of the Holocaust Remembrance Day: The Holocaust has not been the only genocide in human history, in fact it has not even been the only genocide in the 20th century.
Genocide means that human kind turns on itself. And we did that in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979; we did that in Rwanda in 1994; we did that in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Humanity has come up short a number of times after Auschwitz. That’s the sad truth we need to reckon with, we need to face and we need to learn from.
To say “we will never forget” and “never, ever again” is important. It’s part of facing our history. But it is not enough.
Remembering becomes action
The pain we feel when thinking of the victims of genocide, committed by Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge, the Hutu militia, or the Serbs, must help us – I believe – to transform our consciousness.
Genocide can happen when we divide up human kind, when we say that another human being belonging to a different group is a threat or has less value or doesn’t need to be treated like a human being at all. In that sense, remembering Auschwitz means to me to remember Srebrenica, to remember Rwanda, to remember Cambodia, to remember by feeling the pain that comes from the collapse of humanity. Remembering means to embrace that pain, face that pain and transform that pain. In doing so, we are human. In doing so we build humanity.
And then we need to go beyond remembering. To me that means to dare and feel the pain of my fellow humans not just in the past, but of the present.
We live in a period right now, where fellow humans need help because their homes and communities are being destroyed, their families and friends are being killed and because they have nothing left to lose other than life itself. We live in a period of extreme wealth where billions of fellow human beings still live in poverty and suffer from starvation and hunger.
In IOGT International we build everything we do on the principles of universal fellowship and basic human and democratic rights.
IOGT International believes that each individual is unique and has an infinite value. Everyone is entitled to personal freedom and is obliged to work for the improvement of the quality of life of all people.”
Transforming our consciousness means to develop our ability to see each other as human beings and to embrace the truth that we are not separate from one another.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we will share stories from Cambodia, Rwanda and the Balkans in order to face the consequences of spreading hatred and turning people against each other. We share those stories to remember and to resolve to say: Never, ever again.
And we share those stories by incredible people, to inspire real action for daring to be human, to embrace our humanity and to promote universal fellowship.
For our special blog series:
Kim Eng’s story, told by him in his words, is a fitting way of remembering the evil of the Khmer Rouge years and of going beyond remembering genocide and to step up to help build a better, more humane world…
Danijela’s Story: The Cold Winter Day
Remembering Ujvidek massacre and trying to learn the lesson from it for today…
Finn’s beautiful and emotional text, narrating the story of Claude, a Rwanda genocide survivor, shows the pains and the way to reconciliation…