Just over 300 hundred white haired men and women gathered at the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 2015 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its liberation. Heads of state and dignitaries from around the world joined them, but the several hundred elderly were still the most honored guests.
These men and women, now mostly in their eighties and nineties, are among the sole survivors of Holocaust concentration camps. With stooped backs and slow steps, they walked through the infamous iron gateway of Auschwitz labeled “Arbeit macht frei”, or “Work will make you free”. Ironically, manual labor was one of the many life- threatening obstacles prisoners at Auschwitz faced. Over 1 million men, women, and children died at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945. The few who managed to survive disease, malnutrition, and the gas chambers were liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, a day that has come to be recognized annually as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The number of living survivors decreases every year, and some think that this most recent gathering may be the last major anniversary of the liberation that survivors will be able to attend. At this year’s commemoration, several of the survivors shared their memories and accounts of what they witnessed. Renee Salt, now 85, was only able to re-visit the camp for the first time 10 years ago and has done so every year since. The pain of returning to Auschwitz is worth it, she said in a BBC interview, because she wants the world to remember what she and millions of others experienced. “I’ll do it for as long as I can. Why? There are still a lot of Holocaust-deniers the world over and if we don’t speak out, the world won’t know what happened.”
Men and women like Renee saw things as children at Auschwitz that are too graphic even for photographs. The preserved barracks of the concentration camp still sit just across the Sola River from the Polish town of Auschwitz, where people go about their daily lives just like the rest of the world. Halina Birenbaum, another survivor, told the New York Times that her greatest fear for people all over the world is for them to forget about Auschwitz, because she knows “to what kind of hell it leads”.
Today, the Internet gives people no excuse to stand by as atrocities are carried out; they can’t blame a lack of information for inaction. Instant communication that allows for immediate reporting of news stories to any location in the world. Social media helps keep people informed, and even goes a step further in helping them to become involved in causes they are passionate about. In light of current tragedies and injustices like Boko Haram, the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and other terrorist attacks, the voice of survivors of Germany’s World War II genocide should prompt the citizens of the world to use the latest technologies to fight a recurrence with all they have.
An article for the Jerusalem Post shows less faith in the human race to utilize technology for good. It compares Auschwitz in the 1940’s to ISIS’s terrorism in the Middle East today. “Even if IS opened a death camp and showed people being massacred live on the Internet, no one would do anything.” While that claim may be too extreme for some, there is no doubt that the proliferation of violence on the Internet has desensitized some people to evil. Rather than accepting this apathy towards injustice, millennials today need to recognize the power they have in using their knowledge of the world to shape the future.
The atrocity of the Holocaust will forever be remembered as a time when humanity betrayed its own kind. If nothing else, stories shared at the recent Auschwitz memorial should serve to prevent something like it from happening again. As long as they have breath, the survivors of Auschwitz will continue to bear their scars and share their stories as a reminder of the human suffering that has gone on for too long.
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Survivors return to Auschwitz determined to share their stories