Auschwitz Keeping the Memory Alive

On the 70th anniversary marking the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, German President Joachim Gauck said the lessons from the Holocaust must remain an integral part of Germany's identity.
Survivors marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

The Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, remembered the millions of victims of the Holocaust with a commemoration on Tuesday.

German President Joachim Gauck warned at the event marking the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp 70 years ago against consigning the Holocaust to history. “There is no German identity without Auschwitz,” he said. “Remembering the Holocaust remains a matter for every citizen living in Germany. It is part and parcel of our country’s history.”

The president’s warnings relate to a current poll released by the Bertelsmann Foundation showing that a majority of the German population no longer wants to occupy themselves with the horrors of the Holocaust. Eighty-one percent of the respondents would like to put the history of Jewish persecution “behind them.” Fifty-eight percent say the past should be consigned to history.

But Mr. Gauck placed emphasis on the moral obligation to protect refugees and human rights. He said a mandate came from the remembrance of the crimes against humanity, which resulted in the murder of millions of Jews.

“It says to us: protect and preserve humanity,” he said. “Protect and preserve the rights of each person.”

It is a disgrace that people in Germany are accosted, threatened or attacked, when they indicate somehow that they are Jewish or side with the state of Israel Chancellor Angela Merkel

He said this especially applies at a time “when we in Germany must work to reach a new understanding of the coexistence of different religious and cultural traditions,” without making specific reference to the country’s new anti-Islam Pegida movement.

Auschwitz survivors also took part in the commemoration at the Bundestag, while some 300 survivors were on hand for a ceremony  Tuesday at the death camp's site in Poland. More than 1.1 million people were murdered at the Nazi extermination camp, which has since been turned into a museum. One million of those killed were Jewish. The Soviet Army liberated the last 7,500 prisoners on January 27, 1945.

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also marked the camp’s liberation 70 years ago. She expressed outrage at an upsurge in discrimination against Jews in Germany and lamented that they often required extra protection.

“It is a disgrace that people in Germany are accosted, threatened or attacked, when they indicate somehow that they are Jewish or side with the state of Israel,” she said.

The fact that synagogues and Jewish institutions must be under police protection was like a stain on Germany. Two evils of our times have appeared, Islamist terrorism and anti-Semitism, she said, with reference to the recent attacks in Paris.

 

Thomas Sigmund is Handelslbatt’s Berlin bureau chief. To contact him: [email protected]