On Monday, Jan. 27 more than 200 Holocaust survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous and largest Nazi concentration camp during World War II, came together to remember and raise awareness of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.
It’s more important than ever that we remember the Holocaust and recognize the warning signs of genocide and persecution. With the number of Holocaust survivors diminishing due to old-age, it’s our duty to preserve their stories and speak when we see persecution and hate in our society today.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, commonly referred to as just ‘Auschwitz,’ is located in southern Poland. It consisted of three camps; a concentration camp, an extermination center, and a forced labor camp. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, more than 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz, most of them being Jewish. For Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi party, Auschwitz was essential to the “Final Solution,” or the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people.
Before the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, the Nazis evacuated the camp and forced over 60,000 people to march west away from the location. These forced marches are known as ‘Death Marches’ and the term was most likely coined by the camp prisoners, according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Many died on the march from starvation, exposure to the frigid temperature, and exhaustion. British and American forces also liberated several Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland as well. Many of the survivors were malnourished, sickly, and in critical condition. After the liberation of the camps, the harsh reality, horrors, and human atrocities committed by the Nazis were fully revealed to the world.
Today we commemorate the Allies’ liberation of this camp on Jan. 27, 1945. Most Holocaust survivors are in their 90s and are few in number. According to the NY Times: “Fifteen years ago, some 1,500 survivors attended the anniversary event” while this year there were about 200. Survivors wore scarves with their prisoner numbers displayed on them.
The Holocaust occurred over 75 years ago and is, therefore, a worry for many individuals and survivors, that its lessons and memory may be forgotten in the fabric of time. It is easy to say that an atrocity of this magnitude will never occur again, but to make sure it will never happen again is harder. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism, racism, violence, and bystanders still exist in today’s world.
Hopefully, those who survived to tell their story, which is one of enduring the most atrocious crimes against humanity in recent times, haven’t done so in vain.
Locally, the late Joe Diamond was a well-known speaker on the atrocities of the Holocaust. He spoke to over 15,000 students in Buffalo through the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo. Diamond was only a teenager when his family was taken from their town and sent to Auschwitz. Diamond narrowly escaped execution at the camp with the help of an inmate and survived both at Auschwitz and at the subsequent camps he was transferred to after until he reached the Gunskirchen concentration camp, which was later liberated by American.
Diamond and his father were the only two out of his 34 family members to survive. Diamond passed away on March 19, 2017. But those 15,000 students still carry his story. Someday, there won’t be survivors to share their stories, but we can do justice to the stories they’ve told by telling others about the truth of the Holocaust. We can face deniers with facts and testimonies of those who actually experienced it. We can have discussions about the hate and persecution that allowed the Holocaust and events similar it to happen.
The victims of this genocide exemplified great bravery and humanity in the face of evil and violent forces. Their stories of hope, survival and love, as well as pain and loss, should live on so that no future generation has to experience what these survivors did.