Auschwitz survivors mark anniversary of liberation online amid pandemic

File - In this Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 file photo, survivors of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz arrive for a commemoration ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism inside Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)File - In this Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 file photo, survivors of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz arrive for a commemoration ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism inside Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)
File - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019 file photo, survivors of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz arrive for a commemoration ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism inside Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. Hundreds of Holocaust survivors in Austria and Slovakia are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus exactly 76 years after the liberation of the Nazi’s Auschwitz death camp. More than 400 Austrian survivors were invited to get the vaccine at Vienna’s biggest mass vaccination center on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)File - In this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019 file photo, survivors of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz arrive for a commemoration ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism inside Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. Hundreds of Holocaust survivors in Austria and Slovakia are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus exactly 76 years after the liberation of the Nazi’s Auschwitz death camp. More than 400 Austrian survivors were invited to get the vaccine at Vienna’s biggest mass vaccination center on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Flowers are placed at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of the Holocaust on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)Flowers are placed at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of the Holocaust on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Holocaust survivors wear face masks and keep a safe distance from each other while attending an annual International Holocaust memorial ceremony being held outside this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, during a nation wide lockdown, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)Holocaust survivors wear face masks and keep a safe distance from each other while attending an annual International Holocaust memorial ceremony being held outside this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, during a nation wide lockdown, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

A Jewish prayer for the souls of the people murdered in the Holocaust echoed Wednesday over where the Warsaw ghetto stood during World War II as a world paused by the coronavirus pandemic observed the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Most International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations were being held online this year due to the virus, including the annual ceremony at the site of the former Auschwitz death camp, where Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people in occupied Poland. The memorial site is closed to visitors because of the pandemic.

In one of the few live events, mourners gathered in Poland’s capital to pay their respects at a memorial in the former Warsaw ghetto, the largest of all the ghettos where European Jews were held in cruel and deadly conditions before being sent to die in mass extermination camps.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a message to a World Jewish Congress and Auschwitz memorial museum event, said the online nature of remembrance events takes nothing away from their importance.

“It’s a duty but also a responsibility, one we inherit from those who lived through the horrors of the Shoah, whose voices are gradually disappearing,” Steinmeier said. “The greatest danger for all of us begins with forgetting. With no longer remembering what we inflict upon one another when we tolerate anti-Semitism and racism in our midst.”

“We must remain alert, must identify prejudice and conspiracy theories, and combat them with reason, passion and resolve,” Steinmeier said.

From the Vatican, Pope Francis said remembering was a sign of humanity and a condition for a peaceful future while warning that distorted ideologies could lead to a repeat of mass murder on a horrific scale.

In Germany, the parliament held a special session to honour victims. In Austria and Slovakia, hundreds of survivors were offered their first doses of a vaccine against the coronavirus in a gesture both symbolic and lifesaving given the threat of the virus to older adults. In Israel, some 900 Holocaust survivors died from COVID-19 out of 5,300 who were infected last year.

Israel, which counts 197,000 Holocaust survivors, officially marks its Holocaust remembrance day in the spring. But events were also being held across the country, mostly virtually or without members of the public in attendance.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg signed a deal agreeing to pay reparations and to restitute dormant bank accounts, insurance policies and looted art to Holocaust survivors.

Survivors and many others joined a World Jewish Congress campaign which involved posting photos of themselves and #WeRemember. They were broadcast at Auschwitz on a screen next to the gate and a cattle car representing the way camp inmates were transported there.

The online nature of this year’s commemorations is a sharp contrast to events marking last year’s anniversary, when some 200 survivors and dozens of European leaders and royalty gathered at the site of the former camp. It was one of the last large international gatherings before the pandemic brought normal life to a halt.

Due to the pandemic, most survivors today live in “isolation and loneliness,” said Tova Friedman, 82, a Poland-born Auschwitz survivor who attended last year’s event and had hoped to return this year with her eight grandchildren. Instead she recorded a message of warning from her home in Highland Park, New Jersey.

“Today, as anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again, the voices of protest are not many and not loud enough,” said Tova, who at age 6 was among the thousands of prisoners to greet the Soviet troops who liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945.

Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, also warned of worsening anti-Semitism, populism and demagoguery.

“Our world is suffering (from) our own incapacity to react, our own passivity,” Cywinski said. “We are the bystanders of our times.”

The vast majority of those killed at Auschwitz were Jews, but Poles, Roma, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners of war were also murdered there.

In all, about 6 million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Germans and their collaborators. In 2005, the United Nations designated the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Of the 6 million Jewish victims, some 1.5 million were children, and this year’s commemorations included a special focus on them. All living survivors were either children or still young during the war that began more than 81 years ago.

While commemorations have moved online for the first time, one constant is the drive of survivors to tell their stories as words of caution.

Rose Schindler, a 91-year-old survivor of Auschwitz who was originally from Czechoslovakia but now lives in San Diego, California, has been speaking to school groups about her experience for 50 years. Her story, and that of her late husband, Max, also a survivor, is also told in a book, “Two Who Survived: Keeping Hope Alive While Surviving the Holocaust.”

READ MORE: Holocaust survivor remembers Auschwitz on her 92nd birthday

After Schindler was transported to Auschwitz in 1944, she was selected more than once for immediate death in the gas chambers. She survived by escaping each time and joining work details.

The horrors she experienced — the mass murder of her parents and four of seven siblings, the hunger, being shaven, lice infestations — are difficult to convey, but she keeps speaking to groups, over past months by Zoom.

“We have to tell our stories so it doesn’t happen again,” Schindler said in a Zoom call from her home Monday. “It is unbelievable what we went through, and the whole world was silent as this was going on.”

Friedman said she believes it is her role to “sound the alarm” about rising anti-Semitism and other hatred in the world; otherwise, “another tragedy may happen.”

That hatred, she said, was on clear view when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Some insurrectionists wore clothes with anti-Semitic messages like “Camp Auschwitz.”

“It was utterly shocking, and I couldn’t believe it. And I don’t know what part of America feels like that. I hope it’s a very small and isolated group and not a pervasive feeling,” Friedman said.

VIDEO: Arnold Schwarzenegger compares U.S. Capitol mob to Nazis

___

Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press

HolocaustWorld War II

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elmer Patzer, who turned 90 this week, celebrated a distanced birthday with a parade at his home. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Langley senior celebrates distanced birthday with car parade, mascot

At 90, Elmer Patzer just had his second pandemic birthday

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including South Surrey’s Pacific Highway should ‘not be left behind’

Ribfest 2019. (Aldergrove Star files)
Plans for Langley RibFest shelved for second year in row due to COVID-concerns

50/50 Rotary Lottery to continue for second year, potentially worth $250,000, set for Aug. 19

Bat Packs are the newest addition to the FVRL Playground, and have everything you need to learn more about bats, and track them in your neighbourhood. (FVRL image)
Bat Packs at Fraser Valley libraries come with echometer to track bats

Packs are the newest part of the FVRL Playground inventory

Walnut Grove Secondary Student Anna Pyper’s artwork is a self portrait that focuses on the effects of the pandemic on pizza boxes with their most missed memory of before COVID painted on the inside. (Special to The Star)
Langley students tackle masks and pre-COVID memories with pizza box art project

West Fine Art Show showcasing art class photography, paintings and sculptures until April 30

Surrey RCMP are seeking the public's help to locate three puppies stolen from a South Surrey home on April 10. (Surrey RCMP photos)
UPDATE: 1 of 3 puppies stolen from South Surrey returned to owner

American Bulldog puppy recovered after being sold at Mission car show

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Everett Cummings in a tribute video posted to dignitymemorial.com.
Mechanic’s death at Fraser Surrey Docks leads to $200K fine for company, union says

Photos of rally outside Surrey court posted on ILWU’s ‘Kill A Worker Go To Jail’ Facebook page

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

Most Read