January 27th, 2013
68th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
On 27 January 2013, people around the globe remembered the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp: 68 years ago, Red Army soldiers opened up the gates of Birkenau extermination camp. Eight years ago, the United Nations declared this day to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
dpa Interview with Christoph Heubner
“Anti-Semitism is increasingly becoming socially acceptable”
Eva Krafczyk: 80 years ago the National Socialists seized power; 68 years ago Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz extermination camp which has been a symbol of contempt for humanity, racial hatred and mass murder ever since. “Auschwitz – Never again” is part of the basic political consensus in Germany. Despite this, every fifth person has anti-Semitic attitudes. Is this a special challenge for the culture of remembrance?
Christoph Heubner: I’m truly grateful for a very diverse culture of remembrance in Germany. Nevertheless: a culture of remembrance, the memorial ceremonies, school lessons, religious services, which does not interlink with present-day conditions, will fossilize into hollow phrases and feeble pathos. We don’t perform acts of remembrance to ease our conscience. Remembrance and uneasiness belong together. This day also focuses on racial hatred and the murder of children, crimes committed by the German state at that time, crimes which were supported by many of its citizens. That worries me greatly to this day.
And today we see anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish stereotypes creeping out again from various corners – sometimes in old familiar forms. But the new aspect is that anti-Semitism is growing at the centre of society, that it is increasingly becoming socially acceptable. This gives the survivors cause to despair: when thirty per cent of the people interviewed in Germany in a recent survey say that “the Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust to their own advantage”, it is a violation of their dignity and a blow in the face of every individual who survived Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
Eva Krafczyk: Anti- Semitism, xenophobia or racism are not a German speciality. Recently, Hungary has been making negative headlines with its right-wing populist government, the country from where almost half of the Jews murdered in Auschwitz originated. You are in regular contact with survivors: how do the former Auschwitz prisoners react to these developments?
Christoph Heubner: Just a few days ago I was in Budapest and was able to talk a great deal with survivors at various events and in more private contexts. They are filled with utter sadness by the anti-Semitic agitation that surrounds them. It is all so terribly familiar to them from their own youth, and they fear for the future of their children and grandchildren. In addition to this, there is the sympathy they feel for the Roma in Hungary: they are facing even more pressure, hatred and the urge to annihilate them, and all this leaps out at them, even from the newspaper headlines. The survivors are also embittered by the fact that Europe is not doing justice to its role. They feel isolated and abandoned in the darkness of this hatred.
Eva Krafczyk: Most of the survivors are very old, and many are in very poor health, not least as a result of the years in ghettos and concentration camps. In a few years we will miss the voices of the witnesses of the times. What needs to be done to ensure that the memory lives on? What lies close to the hearts of the survivors in this respect?
Christoph Heubner: The survivors have not remained silent. They have passed on their experiences to young people in countless conversations. I know many young people who say that these encounters with survivors are an important part of their development into adults, and that they will never forget them: they have become witnesses to the witnesses of the times. At the moment I am working together with Volkswagen trainees on a project. They are manufacturing a large-scale sculpture, which will epitomise the memories of the survivors and preserve them for the future. The former Auschwitz prisoners have chosen an inscription for the sculpture which they see as the quintessence of their experience of life: “Remember: when injustices take place, when people are discriminated against and persecuted – never remain indifferent. Indifference kills.”
That is what they experienced as young people, and this is what lies close to their hearts.
Eva Krafczyk: Many of the young people who come to Oswiecim no longer have any grandparents who consciously experienced the Second World War, and others have roots in other countries and cultures. What challenges does this present for the tasks of remembrance, and what is changing, for instance in view of the genocide in Rwanda, the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, and other acts of violence which have occurred in the past years and decades, despite the worldwide appeals of “Auschwitz – Never again”?
Christoph Heubner: A Polish poetess has formulated it this way: “Never forget that people prepared this fate for people.” In Auschwitz, a story of humanity is being told which equally concerns people, especially young people, from all possible countries and cultures. And that they need to be told in a way that they understand – with their own history in mind, their own family and their own situation. Are these accounts and narratives helpless and senseless in view of the genocides after Auschwitz?
If I were to answer yes to this, then an institution like the International Youth Meeting Center would be equally senseless. The Nobel Peace Prize has just been awarded to the European Union, which has also been built on the ashes of Auschwitz. Hope is an important part of my work. And hope is what especially the survivors have given to me, time and again – with the courage born from despair.
- Christoph Heubner is Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee.
- The interview is by Eva Krafczyk, Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa).
IAC Remembrance in Berlin
Remembering the victims and the survivors – and those who are suffering under racial hatred and anti-Semitism today
On 26 January the friends of the International Auschwitz Committee gathered at Wittenbergplatz in Berlin to lay a wreath at the memorial panel dedicated to the victims of National Socialist terror in the concentration and extermination camps.
Christoph Heubner said on behalf of the IAC: “We are gathered here on the day before the 27 January, the day on which Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, and which the United Nations declared the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005. We are remembering the victims of the Holocaust who were murdered in the camps – because they were Jews. We are thinking of all the survivors, wherever they are living around the globe: they have had to build new lives, often alone and as the sole survivor from their family. Auschwitz, with all of its memories and experiences, has never left them. Today, in their old age, their health is increasingly suffering from the long-term consequences of the camps. And we are thinking of all those who in Europe today are being humiliated, excluded and attacked with anti-Semitic and racist slogans and actions, or as Roma and Sinti. This is why we are standing together here.”