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Holocaust Remembrance Day More Relevant Than Ever

Cornelia Rabitz (nda)January 27, 2006

Jan. 27, 1945: The Red Army liberated Auschwitz, exposing Nazi brutality to the world. Sixty years later, the event is honored as the first International Holocaust Day. It comes at a time of heightened anti-Semitism.

The world honors the victims and survivors of the Holocaust on January 27Image: AP

Nazi rule in Germany lasted from 1933 to 1945 and cost the lives of six million European Jews, who were gassed, starved or worked to death in concentration camps across the war-torn continent.

On January 27, 1945, the concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland was liberated by the advancing Red Army of the Soviet Union. What they discovered there would become the legacy of the Nazi regime's brutality and inhumanity.

For ten years now, that date has been reserved in Germany for a day of remembrance, a day when the country remembers the day the Holocaust became a lasting scar on world history. This year, January 27 will become an international day of remembrance as the United Nations recognizes Holocaust Day as a global anniversary.

Its recognition by the world body comes at a time when the Holocaust is once more being used as a political tool and as a platform for the renaissance of anti-Semitism beyond the borders of Europe where the original atrocities took place. The latest denials of the Holocaust, most prominently put forward by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, threaten to undermine efforts to respectfully honor the anniversary.

It is now 61 years since the Red Army freed the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The number of surviving victims, like the eyewitnesses to the atrocities and the liberation of the camp, decreases every year.

Lessons still need to be learned

Kerzen Jahrestag Konzentrationslager Auschwitz
Efforts to keep the memory alive must continue as survivors become fewerImage: AP

As time passes, it becomes increasingly obvious that the reality of the horrors of Auschwitz fades, and that the distance of years somehow estranges humanity from one of its greatest shames.

But Auschwitz is not the only abomination that suffers dilution through the passage of time: the fate of political prisoners at the hands of the Nazis, the Sinti, the Roma, the so-called "anti-socials," the homosexuals and the religious minorities.

Efforts to remember the legacy of the Third Reich have taken on many different aspects in many countries across Europe. Memories of Nazi rule mix with other political-historical experiences to stamp the horrors of the 20th Century on countries in many ways.

The people in the east of Europe, who had to suffer the Soviet occupation after the Nazi reign of terror, have had it especially hard. Poland, the Baltic States, the former Soviet states on the boundaries of Europe; all have had two masters in the past, both brutal and unforgiving. After National Socialism came Soviet Communism.

While no one should doubt the suffering of the Jews during World War II, remembrance must also be afforded those who suffered under Stalin’s boot for many more years after the Nazis were defeated.

A day for all who have suffered

Schüler besuchen Ausstellung über Auschwitz
Education for younger generations is extremely importantImage: dpa

January 27, therefore, becomes an international day of remembrance on which every country can reflect on brutality and repression. The day is dedicated to all those who suffered but it is mostly about the destruction of European Judaism. This date in 2006 will be the day when the world thinks of the victims of the Holocaust and it should be a day when people look back to the past to learn the awful lessons which must be avoided in the future.

The remembrance of the genocide remains an ethical obligation, and this obligation remains as strong now as ever before as suffering and mass murder continues to happen in the world.

The timing of this international recognition must not be played down lightly. No longer is anti-Semitism a smoldering bitterness in the backrooms of far-right strongholds in Germany.

Iranian comments

Iran Präsident
Ahamdinejad's comments have stirred latent anti-Semitic feelings in the Middle EastImage: AP

When the message of hate is being preached so publicly by the president of Iran and the government in Tehran is planning a conference to discuss the Holocaust "myth" with notorious deniers is attendance, we can see that anti-Semitism is far from being a thing of the past. It did not die on January 27, 1945.

The Iranian president's message is finding receptive ears. Whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt -- the strongest opposition party in the Egyptian parliament with scions in other Islamic lands -- or representative of the militant Hamas in Palestinian territories, the hatred of the state Israel unites them.

Israel is the land given to the survivors of the Holocaust and the constant thorn in the flesh of extremist Muslims. With the Palestinians suffering under the oppression of Israel, there is plenty of fuel for a new wave of anti-Jewish propaganda.

One could dismiss this as an ideological obsession if it was not for the growing voice of the Holocaust deniers. For the survivors of the Holocaust and their families, this is a further infliction of pain and humiliation.

Europe, specifically Germany, should lead the opposition

Holocaust Mahmal in Berlin - Galerie
Germany should lead the way in opposing anti-SemitismImage: AP

What can be done? The only correct action is not to remain silenced and not to polish over history. Ahmadinejad and like-minded people must be faced with a strong and clear "no" from Europe. The idea to counter the proposed Holocaust conference in Tehran with a European summit featuring Arab and Israeli intellectuals is a good one.

Germany, which carries the heaviest burden of historical responsibility, should be there leading the way. Germany should also continue to work as the model for processing and archiving the crimes of National Socialist history.

The Holocaust anniversary on January 27 reminds us all that we should not stop in our efforts to remember the events that are being commemorated out of respect to the victims. It's another step on our quest for humanity.