Seventy-five years ago, on January 20th, 1942, senior officials of the German Nazi Party met in a villa in the Wannsee district of Berlin to discuss what they called the Final Solution to the Jewish question—the deportation and extermination of the Jewish population of German-occupied Europe.
Subsequently, millions of Jews, along with political opponents and activists, Communists, intellectuals, Romani people, gays and lesbians and mentally handicapped people residing in Germany or German-occupied territories, were arrested and transported to concentration camps. Most of them ended up in extermination camps, built specifically to kill millions of people by execution and extreme work under starvation conditions. In the three years between the Wannsee Conference and the end of the Second World War, six million Jews, as well as four to five million non-Jewish prisoners, perished in these death camps.
Today, the genocide that was committed by the Nazi regime against the European Jews is known as the Holocaust.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau facility in Poland, the largest and deadliest of the extermination camps, was liberated by the Russian Army on January 27th, 1945. The camp was nearly empty that day, as those prisoners who were still capable of walking were herded by their guards away from the invading armies. The liberators were met by some seven thousand skeletal prisoners who were too weak to be evacuated by their captors, and mountains of dead bodies.
The holocaust was a crime against humanity so horrendous that the community of nations vowed to never forget, lest such atrocity happen again. And that is why, every January 27th, we observe the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It’s been 75 years, nearly three generations since the end of the Second World War, and few are left of those who survived the Holocaust, and those who broke open the death-camp doors and freed the condemned. It is up to us now to never again allow hatred and intolerance to drown out our humanity and respect for the lives of others.