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German Bundestag commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day

January 27, 2022

Germany's parliament has been remembering the victims of the Nazi regime who died in the Holocaust. Lawmakers heard the story of survivor Inge Auerbacher, who was deported to a camp in Czechoslovakia at the age of 7.

Inge Auerbacher hugs Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Inge Auerbacher (pictured here hugging German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier) held a speech in the BundestagImage: STEFANIE LOOS/AFP

Germany marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

German lawmakers gathered in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, 77 years ago. It remembers all victims of the National Socialist regime, including the 6 million murdered Jews.

Memories of a dark time

Speaking as a guest of honor, 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher told of her memories as a small child before she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia at the age of 7 in 1942.

"I still have very clear memories of that dark time, a time of terror and hate," Auerbacher said. 

Auerbacher, who has lived in the United States for the past 75 years, said she had been the youngest of some 1,100 people on the train to Theresienstadt. "My parents and I were among the very few who survived."

GIving her speech, Auerbacher wore a butterfly broach to remember some 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered. She described the horrific conditions at the camp, used as a transit facility for those who were sent to the gas chambers.

"There were frequent epidemics caused by the lack of sanitation and the overcrowded conditions we lived in. Typhus was one of the worst dangers we faced. Rats, mice, fleas, lice, and bedbugs were our constant companions."

"There were also frequent deportations, mostly to Auschwitz."

Auerbacher, who made a career as a chemist despite suffering for years from illness because of her treatment during the war, also lamented what she described as a return of antisemitism in many parts of the world, including Germany. "This disease needs to be eradicated as swiftly as possible," she said.

'The power of a human story'

The president of the Israeli parliament, Mickey Levy, spoke about the need — within the walls of the historic Bundestag building — to remember the fragility of democracy. "We are reminded of our duty to protect it at all costs."

"Keeping alive remembrance of the Holocaust is a difficult task that must be shouldered by each generation anew," said Levy, speaking of "often incomprehensible" statistics. 

"The 6 million Jews murdered are 6 million individual stories. Stories of lives not lived, stories of people who are no longer with us," said Levy, paying tribute to Auerbacher for her description of that period.

"You have described your memories of the Holocaust, and in doing so you have created a unique voice. This voice — which shows the power of a human story to really get into people's and to communicate in such a poignant way."

"Thank you for making the incomprehensible comprehensible," he said. 

Bundestag President Bärbel Bas gave a speech warning against historical revisionism and ethnonationalism.

"Our country bears a special responsibility the genocide of the European Jews is a German crime, yet it is also a past which is relevant to all," said Bas. "Not only Germans, and not only Jews."

"Together with many others worldwide, we are taking a stance on remembrance of the Holocaust. A stance against xenophobia and against antisemitism."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as well as Bundesrat President Bodo Ramelow, were also among those present at the ceremony.

Music for the commemoration included pieces by two composers who were also sent to Theresienstadt, played by musicians from the Prague Opera. Two songs of the Jewish resistance against the Nazi occupation in Eastern Europe were also sung. 

January 27 was declared a legal day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism in Germany in 1996.

Every year, the number of remaining Holocaust survivors in Germany — and the living connection with one of modern history's greatest atrocities — continues to dwindle. More than 15,000 survivors died in 2021, according to the Holocaust Survivors' Rights Authority, a government department. 

Duty to keep the memory alive

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Wednesday evening called for the memory of Nazi war crimes to be kept alive

"We remember the millions of people who were deported to concentration camps, tortured and murdered there," he said during a visit to the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. 

"They were imprisoned here because they were political opponents of the regime, because they were Jews, because they were counted among the Sinti and Roma, because they were homosexuals or because they were prisoners of war."

The responsibility today, Steinmeier said, was to firmly counter all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination.

More than 200,000 people were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp between 1936 and 1945. Tens of thousands died through hunger, disease, forced labor, medical experiments, mistreatment or systematic extermination.   

European Union leaders on Wednesday pledged they would confront the rise of antisemitism and Holocaust denial witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic. European Council President Charles Michel said the lessons of the Holocaust were now "more relevant than ever."

The Wannsee Conference

rc/aw (dpa, epd, AFP, Reuters)