This week marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and as the year proceeds we will observe the 75th anniversary of the liberation of other concentration or death camps. Auschwitz was but one of a number of such places of unspeakable inhumanity and horror. However, Auschwitz’s size and the fact that over one million Jews, not to mention tens of thousands of other people, were killed there during World War II has made it the symbol of the Nazi effort to exterminate all Jewish people. This 75th anniversary is a time to remember
- those who died because of their religion, ethnicity, political views, or sexual orientation in Auschwitz and other places like it
- the lifetime suffering of those prisoners who survived
- the haunted memories of those who liberated Auschwitz and the other concentration camps and saw things beyond their imagining
We know, as a 2003 United Church statement put it, that there is “a history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism within Christianity as a whole, including The United Church of Canada.” Many Christians fail to realize that Jesus was born, lived, and died as a Jewish person.
Many of the survivors who chose to visit Auschwitz this week, not to mention other survivors who in recent years have made it a point to finally share publicly their memories of what happened in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, have stated their primary reason in some version of “so that what happened is never forgotten or never repeated.”
As we mark this painful anniversary, perhaps that reason can become a motivation for us all. Indeed, it might be the most helpful commemoration we can make. The mindset that fuelled the Holocaust—excessive nationalism, religious bigotry, xenophobia—is still with us. We see it in examples of ethnic cleansing, in the targeting of members of religious groups because of their faith, in the attacks on people because of their gender or sexual orientation, and in the increasing hostility to immigrants. May we remember. And may we commit ourselves to confront similar forces in our own time.