January 27th marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.
On the 27th January 1945, the Russian soldiers arrived at the camp. They were the liberators; saviours. The scene that greeted them was unbelievable. As well as people who resembled living human skeletons, there were also piles of dead bodies. Many of the prisoners had been marched away by the Germans, retreating from the advancing Russian armies. Among those left behind were some of the twin children who had been the subject of medical experimentation by Dr Joseph Mengele. Josef Mengele was the former assistant to a researcher who studied twins at the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene in Frankfurt.
Survivors from the camp stated that if one twin died, then the other would be killed. Other survivor accounts were that he removed organs without anaesthetic and that he killed some by injection to the heart before dissecting them. These children were dehumanised, just as all such prisoners in these camps were. Such experimentation was worse than barbaric – there are no words to truly account for the horrors.
And the adults and the older children certainly knew that there were gas chambers and ovens. They knew what was happening when they arrived at the camp and were split up into two groups. Some went to the left, the others to the right. One personal account from a male survivor describes how they arrived at the camp and his brother was selected for the opposite side to him. He threw over the remaining bread that he had in his pocket saying, ‘Take it, I don’t need it anymore.’
There are so many heartbreaking accounts of the horrors of the camps. There are so many horrors and war crimes that occurred in WW2. It is unimaginable and quite unbelievable but make no mistake – the holocaust did happen. And I emphasise this because today there are still a few who claim it did not. There is a great deal of evidence that it did, including personal testimonies of former German guards from the camps. It can’t be denied.
Roll forward to the nineties and another atrocity when over 8000 Muslim men and boys were found in mass graves, having been murdered in woods in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia. The massacre took place on July 11th, 1995. This was Europe’s worst atrocity since WW2.
The message is clear. It is vital that we do not forget and that we acknowledge the horrific war crimes that took place. It is vital that our children understand because it is with them that we place our humanity; they are the future and they will grow with such understanding, such empathy. It is with hope that we continue to remember, to talk and to educate because without hope we are lost.
The remaining survivors of the camps continue to this day to give talks in schools and other places. They continue to educate and inform and their voices are beginning to reach more people; beginning to touch hearts and minds and leave an imprint. Their work is a legacy and one that must carry on with the help of younger generations. It might be our best and only hope of eradicating such atrocities from the world. As one survivor, Roman Kent said yesterday, ‘We survivors do not want our past to be our children’s future.’