This Monday, the 27th January, marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Allied forces. Around 1.3 million people – the vast majority of them Jewish – were imprisoned in this single camp between May 1940 and January 1945. At least 1.1 million were executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz and only 7,000 inmates were found alive when the Soviet Red Army entered the camp 75 years ago.
Auschwitz is an important part of the story of the Holocaust, but unfortunately it is only a part. In total, around 6 million Jews were killed during the Second World War, whether in camps like Auschwitz or in their own communities. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis wanted to wipe out the Jewish people and in the course of the Holocaust around two thirds of all of Europe’s Jews died purely because they were Jewish.
The 27th January is now commemorated as Holocaust Memorial Day in remembrance not just of those who died in the Holocaust, but also in related Nazi persecutions against groups like the Roma, gay people, disabled people, political opponents and others, as well as other later genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda.
Whilst three quarters of a century has passed since the horrors of the Holocaust finally came to an end, Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us just how important it is never to forget what happened in the 1930s and 1940s. This is because the Holocaust is not just some dead piece of history – the forces that spread hate against minority groups are still very much alive.
In recent years, there has been an incredibly worrying rise in antisemitic incidents and attacks against Jewish individuals and communities both in Europe and the United States. Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, the Holocaust sadly wasn’t the last genocide. There are still people who want to drive communities apart and attack people who don’t look or sound like them. Holocaust Memorial Day is a chilling reminder of where that can lead.
Having met Holocaust survivors and visited Yad Vashem – the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem – I know that I will never be able to forget about the horrors perpetrated against millions of Jewish people 75 years ago. Sadly however, it won’t be long until no Holocaust survivors remain. Holocaust Memorial Day is an important way of ensuring that their stories don’t die with them. We owe it to them never to forget.