January 27th will mark the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. This day was designated by the United Nations in 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual commemoration in honor of the victims of the Holocaust.
“The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust” is observed around the world on Jan. 27th each year. To commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will hold a candle-lighting ceremony, which will be attended by the Washington, D.C. diplomatic community, along with Holocaust survivors, and the general public. The ceremony will take place in the Museum’s Hall of Remembrance.
Each year in April, the United States also commemorates the Holocaust during the national Days of Remembrance held inside the Hall of Remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The 6,000 square-foot Hall of Remembrance is on the second floor of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC at the end of the tour of the permanent exhibit. The room has 6 sides which represent the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and the 6-pointed Star of David, which is the Jewish emblem. The Hall is three stories high and there is a 6-sided skylight at the top.
As you enter the Hall of Remenbrance, the first thing you see is a rectangular block of black marble, topped by an eternal flame, as shown in the photo below. There are no real windows in the room but shafts of light are provided by narrow glass-covered slits at the four exterior corners of the building, as shown on the left in the photo below.
The photograph directly above shows a black marble block, evocative of a coffin, which contains dirt from 38 of the concentration camps in Europe. The dirt was brought to America in urns, like those used by the Nazis for the ashes of the victims who were cremated, and in a touching ceremony, the dirt was deposited inside the block by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Dirt from a cemetery in Europe where American soldiers are buried was also included, in honor of the American liberators of the Dachau, Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps.
The black marble panel on the wall behind the eternal flame has the inscription: “Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children.”
On the other side of the hall, opposite the eternal flame, are two speaker’s stands, one on each side, resembling two pulpits in a church. It is from one of these stands that the President of the United States will deliver a speech on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th and also on the U.S. Holocaust Remembrance Day in April.
When the Auschwitz main camp, the Birkenau death camp and the Monowitz labor camp were liberated by soldiers of the Soviet Union in the First Army of the Ukrainian Front, under the command of Marshal Koniev, on January 27, 1945, this was no big deal. The story was hardly covered by the press.
Auschwitz was not the first Nazi extermination camp to be liberated. The first camp to be liberated was Majdanek, located in a suburb of the city of Lublin in eastern Poland. The first gas chambers to be seen by anyone in the outside world were at Majdanek, which Soviet soldiers entered on July 23, 1944.
When I visited Auschwitz for the second time in 2005, I purchased a film that had been produced by the Auschwitz Museum. In the film, one of the Museum administrators said that he had heard that the camp was not liberated, but rather “it was happened upon by the Red Army when they were marching by.” He also mentioned that some people have said that the survivors liberated themselves. Binjamin Wilkomirski, who claimed to be a child survivor of Auschwitz, wrote in his book, “Fragments,” that there was no liberation. “We just ran away without permission,” he wrote. “No joyous celebration. I never heard the word ‘liberation’ back then, I didn’t even know there was such a word.” (Wilkomirski has since admitted that his story is fake and his book has now been down graded to a novel.)
When the Soviet soldiers arrived on Jan. 27th, they didn’t have cameras with them, so the liberation had to be reenacted a few days later when a film of the liberation was made. The photos of the liberation are still photos from the film.
On January 18, 1945, the three Auschwitz camps, called Auschwitz I, II and III, and the 40 satellite camps had been abandoned by the Germans. The gassing of the Jews at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, had stopped at the end of October 1944. Aerial photos taken by the Allies showed that the roofs of crematoria buildings Crematorium II and Crematorium III at Birkenau had been removed in November 1944, so that the cremation ovens could be removed by cranes. The gas chambers in Crematoria II, III, and V were blown up on Jan. 20th and Jan. 26th. Crematorium IV had already been blown up by the inmates in October 1944.
When the soldiers of the Red Army of the Soviet Union arrived at Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, they were expecting to find gas chambers, since the gassing of the Jews had been common knowledge as early as June 1942 when the news was first broadcast over the radio by the BBC. What the Soviet soldiers found were the ruins of four large gas chambers where, according to their estimate, 4 million Jews had been gassed to death. It is currently estimated that 1.1 million prisoners were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
After the Germans had abandoned the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex and marched thousands of the prisoners out on January 18, 1945, they came back on January 20 and blew up two of the crematoria buildings where underground gas chambers were located. The photo above shows the ruins of one of these buildings (probably Krema III) with an unidentified building still standing in the background.
The photo above shows an opening into the oven room on the left hand side. This opening was cut when the gas chamber was reconstructed by the Soviet Union.
In 1947, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was turned into an outdoor museum and for the next 50 years or more, visitors were told that the gas chamber in the main camp was original; it is now admitted that it is a reconstruction.
Before they fled from the camp, the Germans had attempted to destroy the evidence of the genocide of the Jews, but had left behind at least 1,200 survivors at the Auschwitz main camp and 5,800 survivors at Birkenau, including 611 children. Some of these children are still alive today and they have told the world about the monstrous crimes that were perpetrated by the Germans at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
One of the most famous child survivors of Birkenau is Eva Moses Kor who is shown on the far right in the photo above.
Miriam Moses, the twin sister of Eva Moses Kor, is shown on the far right. Eva and Miriam survived because they were twins who were selected by Dr. Josef Mengele for his sadistic medical experiments.
The photo above shows some of the 611 children in the Birkenau camp who were left behind when the camp was evacuated on January 18, 1945. According to Holocaust historian Danuta Czech, the evacuation of Auschwitz-Birkenau began in the early morning hours when 500 women with children were escorted out of the camp by SS guards. They reached Wodzislaw on January 21st. The men arrived the next day and all were loaded onto open railroad cars and taken to Germany.
The prisoners at Monowitz and all the prisoners in the sub-camps marched to the four concentration camps at Gleiwitz near the German border, arriving also on January 21st. They were then taken on trains to Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen or Mauthausen. Among the prisoners at Monowitz was Elie Wiesel, who was taken to Buchenwald, where he was liberated on April 11, 1945 by American troops.
Altogether, there were 4,428 women and girls and 169 boys who stayed behind at Birkenau. Around 2,000 prisoners were left behind in the men’s camp at Birkenau and there were around 1250 men in the main camp who did not join the march out of the camp. There were 850 men who chose to stay behind at Monowitz. According to Primo Levi, around 800 of them were sick or injured and they were in the camp hospital. Primo Levi was one of the prisoners in the hospital.
The last roll call, taken by the SS on January 17, 1945, showed that there was a total of 16,226 prisoners in the main camp, called Auschwitz I. Of this number, there were 10,030 men and 6,196 women. The total count from the last roll call was 67,012 prisoners in the three Auschwitz camps, according to Danuta Czech’s book entitled “Auschwitz Kalendarium.” The Nazi records from the camp were turned over to the International Red Cross Tracing Service by the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism in 1989.
The last roll call showed that there was a total of 15,668 prisoners at Birkenau and four nearby sub-camps. The following figures were published in “Auschwitz Kalendarium”:
Birkenau Men’s Camp 4,473
Birkenau Women’s Camp 10,381
The photo above is a still photo from a movie made by Henryk Makarewicz, a soldier in the Polish Berlin Army, immediately after the camp was liberated.
Before the Nazis abandoned the camp, they burned some of the camp records and also set fire to the clothing warehouses and some of the barracks at Birkenau. The prisoners had named the area where the warehouses were located “Canada” because of the riches contained in these buildings. The warehouses and the barracks were still burning when the Soviet liberators arrived 10 days later.
You can read here about how Eva Moses Kor has been able to forgive Dr. Mengele and the other doctors at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
This quote is from the web site cited above:
What changed her was the death of Miriam, her twin, and meeting Dr. Hans Munch, a former SS physician at Auschwitz, who told her the “nightmare” had haunted him ever since. To her amazement, Kor found she actually liked him. He was also the first Nazi doctor to verify the existence of the gas chambers and crematories, and Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” plan to exterminate all European Jews.
Kor soon went on to forgive all of the Nazi doctors, including Dr. Josef Mengele. And she and Dr. Munch wound up signing separate documents — his verifying the Holocaust or Shoah actually happened and her “Declaration of Amnesty” letter — at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in January 27, 1995. At the same time, she forgave her parents for not saving her from the horrors of Auschwitz and also herself for hating her parents because of that.