Arbeit Macht Frei
Today marks the 83rd anniversary of the beginning of the Holocaust; a genocide that saw the murder of six million innocent people. The Holocaust began with discrimination towards Jews, homosexuals and the disabled - discrimination soon turned into persecution and persecution into death. From 1933-1945, over 20,000 camps were built to imprison these people – innocent people. Stripped of their possessions, freedom and dignity, treated in an inhumane, horrific and unforgivable manner – men, women and children were starved, beaten and forced to work. Above the entrance to Auschwitz, one of the most well-known death camps, hangs a sign reading ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – work sets you free – however this wasn’t the reality; these camps weren’t just built as prisons, they were built for murder. This carried on until the very few survivors were finally liberated, but not before the gas chambers at the camps had seen six million deaths. Although many do not want to remember the horrific happenings of the Holocaust, it is our duty to remember and say ‘never again’.
The roots of Hitler’s particularly virulent brand of anti-Semitism are unclear. Born in Austria in 1889, he served in the German army during World War I. Like many anti-Semites in Germany, he blamed the Jews for the country’s defeat in 1918. Hitler was obsessed with the idea of the superiority of the “pure” German race, which he called “Aryan,” and so in pursuit of an Aryan nation he attempted to exterminate the Jewish race.
He started to liquidate Jewish-owned businesses and stripped Jewish lawyers and doctors of their clients. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was considered a Jew. Jews became routine targets for discrimination and persecution. This culminated in Kristallnacht, or the “night of broken glass” in November 1938, when German synagogues were burned and windows in Jewish shops were smashed; some 100 Jews were killed and thousands more arrested. From 1933 to 1939, hundreds of thousands of Jews who were able to leave Germany did, while those who remained lived in a constant state of uncertainty and fear. This was only the begining…
This year’s theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Don’t Stand By’. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, shows us the true meaning of this theme; ‘I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’
WE MUST REMEMBER
Written by James 8A2 and Matthew 8B2