On 27 January 1945, Soviet troops liberated the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today, exactly 67 years later, ceremonies took place in Poland at Auschwitz commemorating the Holocaust, while across the world, at the UN headquarters in New York, in Berlin, Germany, and in Israel, the day served as a memorial of the genocide of Jewish men, women and children at the hands of the Nazis.
In the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, used a special video message to encourage people to fight for the inalienable freedom and rights of others, recalling the Holocaust as the “consequences of a situation when people don’t speak for their neighbour and don’t speak for the stranger, when people are concerned for their own security, their own comfort zones.” Referring to the “tragic history” of the Holocaust, the Archbishop praised the spirit and strength of those willing to “speak for” and “take risks alongside” strangers.
Holocaust Memorial Day has been marked as a stirring occasion to remember the victims of the most heinous of crimes, and to celebrate the bravery of those who withstood and challenged the horrors of it, but it has also been held up as a caveat of history, urging people all over the world to remain vigilant in the face of similar threats of hatred and discrimination. In Germany, a special session of parliament was held, in which the insistence on “never forgetting” could not be emphasised enough, with the president of the German parliament appealing to the hearts and minds of the nation, and indeed the world, to confront right wing extremism.
Today, tragic tales of the Holocaust were told and retold, characterising the evils of hatred and complacence, but also depicting the virtues of courage and bravery. The pain of the Holocaust is not one that should be confined to one single day, nor is it one that is felt only by a single people, but people all over the world. It is a painful part of our global history, but must not define it. That is easier said than done, however, particularly on this day, as one Holocaust survivor remarked, “Auschwitz will remain a wound on the soul of Europe and the world.”