Remembering the Tragedy 75 Years Later
January 27, 2020
‘Arbeit Macht Frei,’ or ‘Work Makes You Free,’ is the phrase millions of innocent lives read before entering the world’s largest death camp. After the beginning of World War II, Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi party, applied a policy that came to be known as the ‘Final Solution.’ The Final Solution was the Nazi plan of racial elimination of all jews. In 1940, the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau camp opened. The most inhumane events took place in this southern Poland camp. More than one million innocent souls died in Auschwitz. People forced into this camp did not come to work, but to die. At the entrance of Auschwitz, captives were inspected by the Nazi doctors to see if they were fit enough to work for them. Young children, pregnant women, older people, and people with disabilities were automatically sent to the gas chambers to die. Those who were left alive were still predestined to die, just in a slower manner by working until their bodies gave out.
January 27th, 2020 marks 75 years since the Soviet Union liberated Auschwitz. It is an important milestone because it might be the last big anniversary that the few remaining Holocaust survivors will be able to witness. The accuracy of the statistics is a source of debate, but according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German SS systematically killed at least 960,000 of the 1.1-1.3 million Jews deported to Auschwitz. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and at least 10,000 from various nationalities. Auschwitz is the biggest murder camp in history. Fifteen years ago, about 1,500 survivors took part in the anniversary event; this year, there were around 200. Several victims of the genocide returned to visit Auschwitz for its 75th anniversary. According to the New York Times, “[Auschwitz survivors] wore scarves emblazoned with their prisoner numbers, the same ones tattooed on their arms. Many were frail, walking only with the support of friends or relatives.”
92-year-old Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser explained, “People would love to forget the hard truths, and that’s why we need to keep coming back [to Auschwitz] to refresh our memories and keep the world from acquiring amnesia.” Ending his speech, Lesser concluded, “Unfortunately, we can’t live forever. What happens after we are gone, I don’t know.”
It is crucial to remember how horrible it is to discriminate against other human beings for not being the same as one another. The main point that the survivors wanted to get through was not letting history repeat itself, educate yourself about the world around you. “In life, we never know what lies ahead. The important thing is to adapt to circumstances you cannot change, no matter how difficult.” I heard my mother’s words over and over again from other survivors – the choices they made to adapt so they could control their environments.