Written By: D. Blackburn
Words can never express the horrors that befell the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis. This year marks the 70-year anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Throughout the year ceremonies are taking place all over the world to remember those who were lost. So many have dedicated their lives to Holocaust research: reuniting families, or families with family heirlooms hidden during the war, hunting down Nazi war criminals to be brought to trial, and documenting the stories of the survivors. Seventy years of work and research and yet there is still so much left to uncover, so many stories that we still do not know.
Just in the last decade, archeologists were able to finally prove the existence of the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp. Towards the end of the war, the Nazis demolished the camp and farms were built over the land. According to a Jerusalem Post article, forensic archeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls and her team uncovered the yellow tiles stamped with Stars of David that survivors testified had lined the floor of the gas chambers.
Nazi war criminals are still being tried even to this day for their actions. This week in Germany Oskar Groening, known in the press as the Auschwitz bookkeeper, will be tried as an accessory to 300,000 counts of murder. Groening, now 93 years old, has been the subject of debate in the media over the last several months. The question is being posed of whether or not he should still be tried now that he is aged.
Further, this past January on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a popular British television show, The Big Questions, sponsored by the BBC, put together a panel of experts to discuss the question of whether or not it is time to lay the Holocaust to rest. The main conflict that arose through the debate was the question of whether or not the Holocaust was somehow different than any other genocide. Both the Armenian Genocide and the Rwandan Genocide were used as examples for comparison.
As we live in a society that is ever focused on equality, it seems that the question of why we need to remember the Holocaust is being asked all too often, especially when anti-Semitism continues to rise all over the world. It is truly ironic that it was through discrimination via cultural supremacy that sought to erase the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and it appears that this so-called “equality” seeks to silence them now. However, it is through silence that the memories of those who perished will be forgotten.
Holocaust Remembrance Day has always held great importance to me; had my great-grandmother not escaped during the pogroms, her fate would have been the same as her relatives, and my family as I know it would not exist. We would have been “erased”.
Complete families perished in the Holocaust with no one left to carry on their name or their memory. They were literally erased! I only understood this in theory until my recent trip to Poland. I had promised my grandmother before she passed that I would go to the area where her mother came from and search for any clues as to what happened to the people of that area.
My great-grandmother, Marja, came from a small Jewish town in the Carpathian Mountains not far from Krakow, in an area that, at the time, was called Galicia. All that is left of the Jews in this area has been immortalized in photographs at Krakow’s Galicia Jewish Museum. I walked into the building hungry for answers, a mixture of excitement and terror coursed through my veins as I walked from photo to photo of synagogues and cemetery ruins.
I reached a sign as I drew closer to a small room off to the side of the large warehouse-esque structure, “The Jews of Western Galicia,” it read. This was it. Inside were the answers that we, my family and I, had sought for so many years. I entered and was immediately overwhelmed. The answers were far graver than I had anticipated. In contrast the many photos of ruins and broken down buildings representing the Jews of Eastern Galicia, the now Polish side, the photos representing remains of the lives of the Jews of Western Galicia were almost non-existent.
One photo showed a section of Jewish homes that had been turned into a landfill. Another was supposedly of a Jewish cemetery, but there were no grave markers present as every single one of them had been destroyed. I learned that most of the Jews in the area never made it to the death camps; instead they were shot into mass graves or packed into the synagogues and burned. Almost nothing remained of them. No relics, no photographs, no ruins, no words. They were erased!
As I walked away from the museum a thought settled in my spirit that, though the photos I saw contained no people, I now understood a part of their stories. We may never be able to fill in what happened to each one of those who died, but we know that they existed. As Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Jerusalem office for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a recent address, it was the duty of the generation after the survivors to seek out those who orchestrated and carried out the atrocities of the Holocaust and see them brought to justice. Similarly, it will be the following generation’s responsibility to maintain the memory of those who perished.
If we fail to acknowledge the depths of hatred with which Satan is capable of poisoning the hearts of men, we have already lost half the battle. Through continuing Holocaust education, and through the preservation of the survivor’s stories that the generations to come will continue to live out the expression, “Never Again!” I Peter 5:8 “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”