Holocaust Remembrance Day

April 7, 2013 in Publisher's Corner

Capt. Alfred de Grazia at Dachau Concentration Camp, ca May 1 1945

“This picture of me was taken with my own camera by a fellow American soldier.” Capt. Alfred de Grazia stands in front of a pile of dead bodies at Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria Germany, after the liberation of the camp by the American army. He was then commanding officer of the Psychological Warfare Combat Propaganda Team attached to HQ, the Seventh Army. Source: Capt. Alfred de Grazia.

Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, began evening of Sunday, April 7 and will last until evening of Monday, April 8. The internationally recognized observance corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan of the Hebrew calendar. Yom Hashoah was established in 1951 by the Israeli Knesset,  or parliament. The day commemorates the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising in then Nazi-occupied Poland. It was the largest uprising by the Jews during World War II. The Germans succeeded in crushing it.

“Our defense is the greatest possible silence and stillness,” an unnamed 14-year-old girl in Warsaw wrote at the time in her diary. “We had always believed we should hide well.”

Later she wrote, “Tra-ta-ta-ta-ta, boom! The enemy fires his machine guns and lobs grenades at the bunker… The people inside summon courage and calmly look death in the eye.”

In 1940, Germany began consolidating Poland’s Jewish population of over three million, crowding them into ghettos, or isolated city quadrants. The largest was the Warsaw Ghetto. It was inhabited by approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people living in a 1.3 square mile area of central Warsaw. Thousands of Jews died during this time due to disease and starvation. This preceded the mass deportations and extermination camps supervised by the German Schutzstaffel, or S.S.

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis organized the systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jews. The state-sponsored Holocaust not only persecuted the Jews, of whom six million were murdered. Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, negroes and political dissidents were also targeted. Hard labor and death awaited most. Others were saved for gruesome medical experiments or had their body parts turned into macabre home appointments, such as human-skin lampshades.

In 1980,  Congress unanimously passed legislation to establish the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The Council succeeded the prior President’s Commission on the Holocaust. This Council was charged with ensuring that a living memorial be established to honor Holocaust victims and survivors, collecting information on current acts of genocide throughout the world, and establishing a perpetual day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust.

In 1993, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated in Washington, D.C., meant to inspire people across the world to fight hatred, stand against genocide, and promote universal human dignity. The museum exists on the National Mall and serves as the living memorial of the Council’s mission. The museum receives both federal and private funding, and sponsors various educational activities. It teaches millions each year about the dangers of anti-Semitism, genocide and hatred.

In 2005, the United Nations established Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, not to be confused with the American and Israeli observances. On Jan. 27, 1945, Soviet troops invaded and liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp.

On April 11, 1945, American forces overcame and liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, freeing over 20,000 prisoners. They also liberated the camps at Dora-Mittelbau, Flossenbürg, Dachau  and Mauthausen.