image Photo: Reuters

World marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, of which an estimated 1.5 million were children.

By Erin Viner

Holocaust survivors and leaders around the world held memorial events today.

The annual commemoration is held on the anniversary the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp complex in Poland was liberated by the Soviet army on 27 January 1945.

A small ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp was held on the gruesome grounds today, where 1.1 million people were killed during World War II.

Holocaust survivors wearing hats and scarves in the blue and white stripes of camp uniforms and others laid candles on the ruins of a gas chamber.

Set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940, at first to house Polish political prisoners, it became the largest of the extermination centers where Adolf Hitler’s plan to kill all Jews – the “Final Solution” – was put into practice.

Russia was not invited to take part in this year’s commemorations due to its war against Ukraine. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted a message on Telegram accusing the West of trying to rewrite history, insisting that, “the memory of the horrors of Nazism and the Soviet heroes-liberators cannot be erased”.

The director of the Auschwitz Memorial went so far as to compare the deaths of people in Ukraine to the suffering in World War Two during today’s solemn ceremony.

“Similar sick megalomania, similar lust for power, and similar-sounding myths about uniqueness, greatness, primacy … only written in Russian. Innocent people are dying en masse in Europe, again,” Piotr Cywinski said in an address to those gathered.

“Wola district in Warsaw, Zamojszczyzna, Oradour and Lidice today are called Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, Mariupol and Donetsk,” he added, referring to places where mass killings took place in WWII and sites where Ukraine and its allies accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities.

Rejecting allegations that civilians have deliberately been targeted, the Kremlin refers to the war a “special military operation” triggered by Kyiv’s increasingly close ties with the West – which Moscow says endangers its own security. Ukraine and Western allies have branded the conflict an unprovoked invasion to eradicate the independence of a fellow ex-Soviet republic that Russia views as an illegitimate nation.

Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying that the Jewish State marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day “by honoring the sacred memory of those who perished at the hands of a murderous Nazi regime.

The difference now is that the Jewish people have the State of Israel. Israel protects itself by itself. We are a strong and vibrant nation and we have built up a powerful state that will not allow our enemies to inflict the very pain, suffering and devastating loss our people experienced during the Holocaust,” he underscored.

In remarks directed at Israel’s enemies, most notably Iran; as, Netanyahu stressed “there are those who still call for our destruction, day in and day out. We will not cower in fear, nor will we allow the threats of these tyrants to intimidate us. For this enemy knows that at the end of the day, if needed, we can and will defend ourselves, and we will not allow our enemies to possess an ability to carry out its and murderous agenda. We see them on their steady march towards obtaining the most lethal of weapons and I say to them here and now – we will stop you from obtaining them. And we do not forget or forgive the evil deniers of the Holocaust, which for them, one Holocaust was not enough.”

Netanyahu concluded his statement saying, “On behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, on behalf of the survivors and those who perished, I vow to you as Prime Minister of the one and only Jewish state, that we will remain vigilant, strong and never allow the Holocaust to happen again. Never.”

we speak they continue talking about murdering, the Jewish State; and when we see the rapid progression towards nuclear weapons, indifference is silent acceptance. A country that talks about annihilating the Jewish State should not be a legitimate partner for anything.”

Echoing those sentiments, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed that, “only a strong and secure State of Israel, only a powerful and moral military, the IDF, can ensure the continuity of the Jewish people. Today, I send a clear message to those who threaten us – from terrorists who target the Jewish diaspora, to Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, ‘Never again’ is a promise. It’s a promise of security to our people. It’s a promise of peace, which we must keep together with the international community.”

On a very personal note, Jerusalem’s top defense official observed that while “to many around the world, the Holocaust is a faraway concept, buried in history books,” for “the 6 million Jews and minorities who were murdered, to my mother Fruma – who fled the Nazis at only 5 years old – the Holocaust is not a story.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is in Brussels, where he addressed the commemoration in yesterday’s speech to the European Parliament.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today’s ceremonies honor both “the memories of the six million Jews and others persecuted and systematically murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators,” as well as “the survivors among us who bear witness and inspire us all to stand against anti-Semitism and other forms of hate in our world.”

As the survivor generation passes into history, we must find new ways to educate future generations about the Holocaust,” he said, stressing that, “The testimonies of survivors and their descendants remind us to be vigilant in defending the dignity and human rights of all.  For two years running, the Department of State has spotlighted our colleagues who are descendants of Holocaust survivors.  They all felt called to public service by the stories of their parents and grandparents.”

Blinken, whose stepfather was the solitary student among 900 children of his school in Poland who was not murdered in WWII, said many examples of American descendants of Holocaust also include US Ambassador to Germany Dr. Amy Gutmann, whose grandfather organized his family’s escape through India.

Another descendant, he said, is diplomat Daniel Devries, “whose grandfather made it to Ellis Island after his family was murdered at Auschwitz.  Daniel summed it up: ‘through public service, I can repay part of my family’s debt to the country that enabled us to thrive…and allows me to promote the American values that made a new beginning possible for my grandfather and countless others.’”

The top US diplomat then stressed that, “This solemn day of remembrance underscores the need to condemn and counter Holocaust denial and distortion – forms of anti-Semitism – wherever and whenever they arise.  Holocaust denial and distortion are affronts to the memory of the murdered.  On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we resolve to counter lies with facts and hatred with action in service of our common humanity.  Today and every day, we impart the solemn lesson of ‘Never Again.’”