Auschwitz lesson still not learned

Auschwitz lesson still not learned

Seventy-five years ago today, on Jan 27 1945, it must have seemed as if the gates of hell themselves had been thrown open. The liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, by Soviet forces finally brought home the full horrors of the Holocaust to a shocked world. What the soldiers of the Red Army saw when they entered the camp was simply inconceivable in its dreadfulness. They found thousands of sick, starving and tortured victims, who had been confined in appalling, harrowing conditions, and the evidence of the extermination of around 1.1 million innocent people.

That day of liberation, on which the remaining victims were at last freed from their purgatory, was not a happy one by any means. The liberators and the liberated cried shoulder to shoulder, but they did not cry tears of joy. No, they uttered cries of disbelief, cries of agony, cries of shock, as they came face to face with previously unthinkable horrors and tragedies. More recently, the day has been chosen by the global community to be observed every year around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Over the past seven decades, the extermination camps have not only come to represent the ultimate symbol of evil in the world, but also to stand as humanity's greatest tragedy. The Nazis' so-called "Final Solution to the Jewish Problem", which aimed to eliminate the entire Jewish race, along with its culture and heritage, was meticulously planned before being ruthlessly implemented on a vast scale in the early 1940s.

The discrimination and dehumanisation process targeting the Jews of Europe was a gradual one initially, but unfortunately extremely effective. Little by little, millions of Jews were first forced out of their homes. Then, their properties were confiscated. After that, they were massed together in ghettos where they were struck down by disease and hunger. Those who survived were deported to work as forced labour in concentration camps.

Those "fit to work" in the camps were tattooed with serial numbers so even their own names were stripped from them -- dehumanisation at its worst. Those classified as "not fit to work" were immediately exterminated. The overwhelming majority were killed in gas chambers, which were built to eliminate some six thousand people every single day.

This mass murder on an unprecedented scale was carried out in cold blood, and held no regard for age or gender. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the Jews were not human, so it wasn't really people who were being slaughtered. And while the Jews were poisoned to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, as a terrible consequence the last vestiges of human dignity, liberty and solidarity went up in the smoke of the crematoria that the Nazis used to turn millions of people into ashes in a bid to hide their heinous crimes.

Yet, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, it seems clear that the lessons of those dark days have not been fully learned. Anti-Semitism, discrimination and dehumanisation still haunt the world today. Contemporary acts of hatred against Jews, ranging from harassment and vandalism to violent and oftentimes deadly attacks, have surged in recent years across Europe and North America. In 2018, according to Tel Aviv University's Kantor Centre, there was a 13% spike in anti-Semitic attacks globally compared with the previous year. Catalogued were 387 violent attacks with the highest number of incidents reported in countries one might least expect them to happen -- major Western democracies including the United States, France, Britain and Germany.

The intensification of anti-Semitic violence is not only a matter of anguish for the Jewish people. Through insidious evil such as this, the seeds of hatred, discrimination and dehumanisation are being sown afresh in every society.

Everyone and anyone, under certain circumstances, could potentially become a victim of the terrible scourge of hate crimes, just because of his or her race, religion or political beliefs.

Last week, heads of state and world leaders from more than 40 countries, together with Holocaust survivors, came together in an historic gathering at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum. This remarkable memorial was held to honour the few remaining survivors of the Shoah, and to remember -- once again -- the victims who perished.

Nevertheless, as tremendously important as it is to remember -- simply remembering is not enough. To this end, the international community must act as a united front and engage in a full partnership to combat this "old-new" anti-Semitism that is rearing its ugly head again today in such terrifying ways. And we must all, people and governments alike, commit to act swiftly when we are confronted with racism and bigotry -- in any of their hideous forms.

Meir Shlomo is Ambassador of Israel to Thailand.

Meir Shlomo

Israeli ambassador

Meir Shlomo is the Israeli ambassador.

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