Monday, January 27th, 2020 marked the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz (a German concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland). The International Holocaust Remembrance Day is in commemoration of the day, January 27th 1945, when Allied troops found nearly 8,000 sick and starving prisoners and liberated them.
This liberation happened nearly a decade before my birth and as a young child many of the adults in my family spoke in hushed tones about relatives that weren’t lucky enough to have made it to America, and relatives that died in the concentration camps. I was raised amid whispers of different camp names and the evil “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Jewish children, safe in America from Nazi Germany’s plans to annihilate our race were sheltered by parents who mourned loved ones and were horrified by what had happened.
My parents had a friend, her name was Anne, and one day I asked Anne about the numbers tattooed on her arm. My mother gasped. Anne took my hand and quietly told me that it was a mark put on her arm by Nazis when she was taken to a concentration camp. And then she somberly old me a “gentle” version of what she had lived through. Knowing how protective my parents always were I innocently asked Anne where her parents were during her ordeal and she told me. And I cried when I learned that she had watched her mother walk into the gas chamber, and she was separated from her siblings all of whom she was sure of their deaths, and her father was shot to death for not working hard enough.
A few years later, in public school, one teacher was brave enough to show our class a film that was taken by a soldier upon liberating one of the camps. There were corpses and tattered clothing, and even remnants of dolls and he told us how many died during this horrendous time; he even told us that more than 6-million Jewish lives had been taken along with thousands of gay men and women, non-Jews who tried to help their Jewish neighbors, Gypsies, twins who were used for experiments, physically and mentally disabled people, Catholic priests, and others who didn’t look Aryan enough. There were parents who were upset about his harsh reality their children witnessed in the film and there were complaints — I think that teacher was fired, we had a different classroom teacher the rest of the year.
Throughout my life I met several more people with numbers tattooed on their arms and poignant stories to tell. And I heard stories of hope as people rebuilt lives. I visited a small local Holocaust museum some years back. And my own daughter visited Auschwitz during a USY (United Synagogue Youth) Pilgrimage to Poland and Israel. And I learned the name of a young relative in my family who died in one of the concentration camps, Sara was just 10-months old.
I was very distressed to read headlines today which implied that growing numbers of millennials have no idea what the Holocaust was. There have always been some deniers, but it happened… the numbers on Anne’s arm were real, the stories I’ve heard from other survivors are real, the film our teacher showed us was real, and 10-month old Sara was real. I fear that #NeverAgain has become a meaningless cry for too many.
We can NEVER FORGET when any people have been tortured, killed, dehumanized, and singled out because of a religion, race, lifestyle or ethnicity. Please teach your children and your children’s children — we must remember so that we can, G-d willing, stop history from repeating itself.
The Railway to Auschwitz