Holocaust Remembrance Day remembers the victims of Nazi terror

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Berlin | ©manyapeace45/123RF.COM
Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Berlin | ©manyapeace45/123RF.COM

Holocaust Remembrance Day remembers the victims of Nazi terror

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

On Jan. 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest and deadliest of six dedicated Nazi extermination camps, was liberated by Russia’s Red Army. Over the course of the four and a half years of existence of this death camp to the west of Kraków in southern Poland, Nazi Germany systematically murdered at least 1.1 million people at this site alone. Almost one million of those individuals were Jews.

Since 2005, the January 27 date has been designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, meant to honor the victims of Nazism.

Each year’s commemorations are assigned a theme. In 2022, the chosen theme is “Memory, Dignity, and Justice.” To this end, many organized events and activities will emphasize the importance of remembering the victims, safeguarding the historical record, and challenging the distortion of history often expressed in contemporary antisemitism—  all critical aspects of claiming justice after atrocity crimes.

In Germany, the Jan. 27 date is remembered as Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism.  Communities might choose to mark the day with lectures, concerts, theatrical productions, film screenings, or the lighting of candles at sites of persecution.  Due to the ongoing pandemic, many large-scale gatherings have been cancelled once again in 2022.

While the language barrier is a detriment to meaningful participation in many activities, there are still means by which we can remember the victims. The German portal deutschland.de features a page on how Germany keeps the memory of the Holocaust victims alive and commits itself to reconciliation, along with a graphic depicting the country’s most important sites of Holocaust remembrance.

Another way to remember is stopping to read and reflect upon a city or town’s Stolpersteine. A term that translates roughly to “stumbling stone,” these small brass plaques embedded into the sidewalk identify the homes in which Jewish families lived. The simple plaques mostly follow a standard format, providing the name, date of birth, date of deportation and ultimate fate of the individuals cast out from their communities. It’s estimated that by the beginning of 2020, there were over 75,000 such memorial stones to be found in nearly 1,200 German cities and towns.

A lecture offered online by the city of Wiesbaden reminds us that although Jews suffered most under National Socialism, they weren’t its only victims. “Lesbian Persecution in Nazi Germany – The Curious Case of Waltraud Hock” examines the case of a woman from Wiesbaden, arrested in 1941 for refusing to work. The daughter of a “colored” American occupation soldier from World War I, she was held back in school and was a lesbian. Hock was deported to Auschwitz, where she died in 1943. The lecture, delivered by Prof. Samuel Clowes Huneke of George Mason University, takes place at 7 p.m. on Jan. 26 via zoom; sign up by e-mail at Veranstaltung-Stadtarchiv@wiesbaden.de.

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