The Holocaust: ‘So Many Stories Still to Tell’
Do you know how many Jews were killed during the Holocaust?
Did you know that memories of one the ugliest chapters in human history are beginning to fade?
Worse, did you know that there is an alarming rise in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic attitudes and attacks?
As we remember the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day honoring the millions of Jewish and other victims of the Holocaust, those questions are being asked. But, more importantly, many stories are being told – and are still to be told – in order that, today, tomorrow, forever, we will remember and continue to hope and pray “Never Again.”
To help us remember and reflect, several books have been published, numerous survivors’ narratives have been told, many interviews given, documentaries aired and commemorative services, exhibitions, forums and conferences are being held around the world.
Last week, some 50 world leaders and dignitaries converged on Israel at the World Holocaust Forum and its central ceremony at Yad Vashem, the hillside Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
The commemorative events include and will culminate in a solemn ceremony at Auschwitz on Monday where dozens of aging Holocaust survivors will be present.
Sadly, some of these events and efforts have not been without recrimination or are being viewed by some as “controversial.”
A recent piece in The New York Times on the commemorative ceremonies speaks of worries and anger; of “bitter disputes” between old World War II combatants; even of warnings of the “weaponizing” of the memory of Auschwitz.
Others ask whether it is “ethical” to show (gruesome) images of the Holocaust, especially those taken by the perpetrators of the atrocities themselves.
Perhaps the most rare — and controversial — images are four “witness photographs” taken at Auschwitz-Birkenau “most probably by a Greek prisoner, Alberto Errera, who was later killed by a guard…the images are blurry, shot hastily at an angle. They show naked women and burning piles of dead bodies…”
The Times article by Marc Santora, referenced above, 75 Years After Auschwitz Liberation, Worry That ‘Never Again’ Is Not Assured, contains several heart wrenching images – some may say “unseemly” — of the horrors and atrocities of the Shoah. To this author, they just strengthen the cry for “Never Again.”
This week, audiences in the United States and Britain will for the first time see archive black and white footage and photographs of the Nazi death camps in color.
David Shulman, the producer and director of the two-part documentary “Auschwitz Untold in Color,” admits that “he approached the idea of colorizing the monochrome images with a ‘great deal of reservation.’” However, Schulman is pleased with the results. “I was actually taken aback by how much humanity — the sense of humanity — it added to the black and white archive when it is very skillfully colorized,” he says.
Whatever your views of these “controversies” and of the many other issues surrounding the Holocaust may be, whatever your answers are to the lead questions at the beginning of this piece, there are an incredible number of sources to bounce your views against and to learn more about the Shoah.
On this 75th anniversary, there has been an unprecedented number of accounts of “history’s darkest chapter.”
For personal reasons, I believe Eddy de Wind’s book Last Stop Auschwitz: My Story of Survival From Within the Camp — perhaps the only Holocaust death camp account written ‘in situ,’ in ‘real time’ and not affected by fading or inaccurate memories, not influenced by stories or reports learned afterwards — should be on the top of that list.
But there are many other timely books:
• In Fire and Snow is a memoir by Yaacov (Yakubek) Putermilch, Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Fighter During World War II, describing his life in the Warsaw Ghetto and his work in the underground during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.
• 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune Macadam and Caroline Moore, “The untold story of the young women who were part of the first official transport to Auschwitz, told 75 years after the liberation.”
• Beth Bailey’s Citizen 865, recounting the valiant efforts of American prosecutors who pursued justice for Holocaust victims for decades after the end of World War II.
• By Chance Alone by Max Eisen, an award-winning Holocaust memoir in the tradition of Elie Wiesel’s Night and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz detailing Eisen’s story of survival during the Holocaust.
Finally, and especially during the 75th anniversary period, The Times of Israel is a copious and reliable source of stories about history’s darkest chapter and certainly will continue to be, because there are so many stories still to tell.
But there’s also reason for concern. At a time when anti-Semitism is rising and when public awareness of the Holocaust is waning, we cannot let our guard down and assume the world won’t forget. Recent trends suggest that there’s much work to be done, both in terms of promoting greater awareness and in guarding against denialism.
Let’s be clear: Holocaust denial is nothing more than anti-Semitism. It is an attempt to deny the Jewish people their history, one of many tactics used by bigots in the long-running campaign to delegitimize the Jewish people.
Major Pew survey finds fewer than half of US adults know how Hitler came to power, other Shoah-related specifics; situation is even worse among teens (but not young adults)
Across Europe and in the United States, there is concern about a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Toxic political rhetoric and attacks directed at groups of peoples — using language to dehumanize them — that were once considered taboo have become common across the world’s democracies.
And as the living memory of World War II and the Holocaust fades, the institutions created to guard against a repeat of such bloody conflicts, and such barbarism, are under increasing strain.