Holocaust survivors mark 74th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation at former camp

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Holocaust survivors mark 74th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation at former camp

Far-right demonstrators are separated from counter-protestors by the police as survivors mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Survivors of Auschwitz gather on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi German death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019.  (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Survivors of Auschwitz gather on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi German death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Holocaust survivors marked the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day – as far-right protests took place at the former Nazi camp.

In Poland, which was under Nazi occupation during the war, a far-right activist who has served prison time for burning the effigy of a Jew gathered with other nationalists outside the former death camp of Auschwitz ahead of official ceremonies remembering the 1.1 million people murdered there.

Former prisoners placed flowers at an execution wall at Auschwitz. They wore striped scarves that recalled their uniforms, some with the red letter P, the symbol the Germans used to mark them as Poles.

Early in the Second World War, most prisoners were Poles, rounded up by the occupying German forces. Later, Auschwitz was transformed into a mass killing site for Jews, Roma and others, operating until the liberation by Soviet forces on January 27 1945.

The clashes of views at Auschwitz come amid a surge of right-wing extremism in Poland and elsewhere in the West. It is fed by a broader grievance many Poles have that their suffering during the war at German hands is little known abroad while there is greater knowledge of the Jewish tragedy.

Former prisoners place candles and flowers at the Death Wall marking the 74th anniversary of the liberation of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

However recent surveys show that knowledge of the atrocities during the war is declining generally.

A study released in recent days by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Azrieli Foundation found that 52% of millennials in Canada cannot name one concentration camp or ghetto and 62% did not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

The past year in Poland has also seen high emotions triggered by a Holocaust speech law that criminalises blaming the Polish nation for the crimes of Nazi Germany, something that sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel and a surge of antisemitic hate speech.

Since last year’s observances, an 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, was fatally stabbed in Paris and 11 Jews were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat services, the deadliest attack on Jews in US history – indicating a revival of hate-inspired violence and signs that younger generations know less about the genocide of Jews, Roma and others during the Second World War.

Human Rights First, a US organisation, recalled those killings and warned that “today’s threats do not come solely from the fringe”.

“In places such as Hungary and Poland, once proudly democratic nations, government leaders are travelling the road to authoritarianism,” said Ira Forman, the group’s senior adviser for combating antisemitism.

“As they do so, they are distorting history to spin a fable about their nations and the Holocaust.”

The Polish nationalist, Piotr Rybak, said his group was protesting against the Polish government, accusing it of remembering only murdered Jews and not murdered Poles in yearly observances at Auschwitz.

Police stand between anti-fascist protesters and a group of Polish nationalists who want to place a wreath at Auschwitz in honor of Poles murdered by the Germans, in Oswiecim, Poland, on Jan. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The accusation is incorrect. The observances at the memorial site pay homage each January 27 to all of the camp’s victims, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Counter-protesters at Auschwitz held up a “Fascism Stop” sign and an Israeli flag, while police kept the two groups apart.

The United Nations recognised January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.

Help perform the greatest mitzvah: save a life

While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.

That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.

We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.

Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”

read more: