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Remembering Auschwitz

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Remembering Auschwitz
The anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camp comes as antisemitism is on the rise

It was 75 years ago today that Soviet troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, in the process revealing to the world the scale of an unimaginable crime without precedent. Only 7,000 people were left in the camp, having miraculously survived starvation, illness, slave labour, humiliation and abuse. The main gas chambers had been destroyed by the Nazis but the furnaces, where the remains of more than 1.1 million men, women and children, most of them Jewish, were incinerated remain as evidence of what took place there. When Polish resistance fighters passed word of what was happening at Auschwitz to the allies in 1942 their reports were not initially believed. Fearing that they too would not be believed, the Soviets brought civilians to Auschwitz to witness what they had found so that the world could never forget.

The commemoration ceremonies at Auschwitz today, which will bring together world leaders and 120 Holocaust survivors, carry a particular importance. That is in part because this may be the last such major event at which significant numbers of survivors are present. About half the remaining Holocaust survivors have died within the past five years. Slowly the Shoah is passing from living memory. This makes it all the more important that the stories of those who are alive continue to be told: stories such as those of Sheindi Miller-Ehrenwald, 90, whose diary of her encounter with the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele we told last week, and of Eva Clarke, a 74-year-old Cambridge woman who was born in Mauthausen, another Nazi death camp, which we recount in today’s edition.

But what also makes today’s events so important is that they take place at a time when antisemitism is once again increasing around the world. In recent years there have been violent attacks against synagogues, supermarkets and homes. Guides at the Belsen-Bergen camp have reported being heckled by Holocaust deniers. In a 2018 survey the European Union recorded that 80 per cent of Jewish people believed that antisemitism was on the rise in their country and 40 per cent said that they lived in daily fear of being attacked. A United Nations report into antisemitism warned that it was being fuelled by the extreme right, the extreme left — typically under the cover of anti-Israeli rhetoric — and violent Islamist radicalism. Here in Britain the Labour Party is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for its shameful failure to root out antisemitism among its activists.

This anniversary is a reminder to the world to redouble its efforts to ensure that what happened at the Nazi death camps is never forgotten. As the UN noted, antisemitism is “the canary in the coal mine of global hatred”. British children are rightly taught about the Holocaust from the age of ten. The government will announce today a new fund to pay for 150 student leaders a year for the next three years to visit Auschwitz and hear from survivors. It has also promised to name and shame universities and local councils that refuse to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism as part of their efforts to tackle anti-Jewish racism, and warned that they may lose public funding. These are welcome steps. As the number of survivors dwindles, the world must find new ways to keep their stories alive as a reminder of the depravity of which mankind is capable. Only by confronting history can we hope not to repeat it.
The Times….27 January 2020

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