Auschwitz 70th Liberation Anniversary

Today, January 27, 2015 is a somber anniversary marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex by Soviet troops. This day is also known as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was designated by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/7. Holocaust survivors and their family members, along with several world leaders, gathered at the Polish concentration camp to commemorate the events and speak about the horrors of the Holocaust, known in Hebrew as the Shoah.

Around 300 survivors of this death site convened here, although there have been as many?as 1,500 survivors attending?in the past. Many of the survivors have died or become too infirm to travel here now. A group of survivors, who as children were photographed on that fateful liberation day, reunited and spoke about their memories, and pointed out their childhood selves on a blow-up of said photograph. One of the women, 79 year old Miriam Ziegler, said

“I swore I would never go back to Poland, but I feel it’s my duty now to do it.”

Image of a Holocaust survivor's Auschwitz tattoo, from
Image of a Holocaust survivor’s Auschwitz tattoo, from

Various writers and media outlets have prepared tributes and articles about the day.?In a?disturbing piece, Don Feder (World Congress of Families) has written that US President Obama “is perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall the Jews since the destruction of the Second Temple” which occurred in 70 AD.

The majority of Jews in the United States are supportive of Obama, to various degrees, and Obama has been supportive of Israel, although the relationship has been strained at times. How anyone sane could state that Obama is worse for the Jewish people as a whole, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president during World War Two, is ridiculous. If anything, FDR could have done much more to rescue Holocaust victims, Jews and others, and who could have more strongly contested Germany’s mass-killing policies. (His wife Eleanor did help to rescue Jewish families, and an old friend of mine, once told me about how his family members were among those saved by her efforts.)

Don Feder’s inane commentary aside, there are Jewish news outlets such as the Jewish Press that have criticized President Obama for his Israel policy and his Iran policy.

Although it would have been nice if?President Obama, or?even Vice President Joe Biden, could have attended the Auschwitz ceremony, both were unavailable. President Obama is currently on a diplomatic trip to India, followed by a trip to Saudi Arabia.?In his stead, President Obama?sent Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as the US representative, along with a few other people.

There has been a noticeable rise in anti-Semitic activity in recent years, especially in Europe, and that is quite frightening and disheartening. As well, there are people who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, or downplay its scope, doubting that six million Jews, over a million Roma (Gypsies), thousands of homosexuals and disabled people, and so many others were killed or suffered due to the policies of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis and those who cooperated with them. A day like International Holocaust Remembrance Day not only reflects on past pain, but is also intended to educate those who would deny the horrors and global importance of the Shoah. We should never to let another Holocaust occur. We owe this to the memory of those who have?suffered so greatly?in the past.

Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.