The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — why forgetting is not an option

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Auschwitz-Birkenau

The conviction that life has a purpose is rooted in every fibre of man, it is a property of the human substance. Free men give many names to this purpose, and think and talk a lot about its nature. But for us the question is simpler. Today, in this place, our only purpose is to reach the spring.

The scale of collaboration with the rounding-up and shipping of Jews from across Europe to Nazi death camps should likewise never be forgotten. All over Eastern Europe, where antisemitism has deep cultural roots stretching back to medieval times, thousands actively and willingly collaborated in the Holocaust. In Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Poland and elsewhere, the Nazis found a ready supply of manpower willing to engage in the rounding up and murder of, in many cases, men, women and children who had formerly been neighbours of those turning them in to the Nazis.

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Members of Ukraine’s notorious Neo-Nazi Azov Battalion

Stories of the living dead of Treblinka, who had until the last minute kept not just the image of humans but the human soul as well, shake one to the bottom of one’s heart and make it impossible to sleep. The stories of women trying to save their sons and committing magnificent doomed feats, of young mothers who hid their babies in heaps of blankets. I’ve heard the stories of ten-year-old girls, who comforted their sobbing parents with a heavenly wisdom, about a boy who shouted when entering the gas chamber: ‘Russia will take revenge! Mama, don’t cry!’

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Treblinka today

I was told about dozens of doomed people who began to struggle. I was told about a young man who stabbed an SS officer with a knife, about a young man who had been brought here from the rebellious Warsaw ghetto. He had miraculously managed to hide a grenade from the Germans and threw it into the crowd of executioners when he was already naked. We were told about the battle between a group of rebels and guards and the SS that lasted all night. Shots and explosions of grenades were resounding until the morning, and when the sun rose, the whole square was covered with the bodies of dead rebels…

We were told about a tall girl who snatched a carbine from the hands of a Wachmann [guard] on ‘The Road of No Return’ and fought back. The tortures and execution she was subjected to was terrible. Her name is unknown, and nobody can pay it the respect it deserves.

Indeed, yes, forgetting is not an option.

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