On 27 January 1945 Soviet troops marching towards Germany through occupied Europe liberated the prison camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, revealing to a horrified world the dreadful machinery of a Nazi concentration camp. It turned out that Auschwitz was only one of a network of such camps that extended across Europe and Germany, a network that had been established to eliminate the Jews of Europe.
Other groups of people that were considered ‘undesirables’ were also trapped in Hitler’s Nazi system and these included political opponents, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, gypsies and various religious groups.
As the full extent and nature of Hitler’s philosophy became understood, it was apparent that Nazi Germany was responsible for the greatest genocide in recorded history. It was estimated that some six million Jews had been killed along with around five million other ‘undesirables’, with many of these killings taking place in organised mass murders within the concentration camps. Thousands were sent to gas chambers with their bodies disposed of in crematoria.
To compound the horror it was also revealed that many of the victims had also been subject to forced labour, starvation, beatings, torture and obscene medical experiments with many thousands of children included in these atrocities.
The entire dreadful event became known as ‘The Holocaust’, from the Greek words ‘holos’ (whole), and ‘kaustos’ (burnt).
In 2005, following a resolution introduced by the State of Israel, the United Nations passed Resolution 60/7 that established 27 January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, urging all member nations to observe it.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted at the time:
The United Nations General Assembly today (Tuesday, 1 November 2005) unanimously adopted a resolution introduced by Israel and designated January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day. In doing so, the assembly urged the nations of the world to observe the day so that future generations will be spared acts of genocide.
Co-sponsored by 104 other states, the resolution rejects Holocaust denial and encourages countries to develop educational programs about the horrors of genocide. It also condemns religious intolerance, incitement, harassment, or violence based on ethnic origin or religious belief.
Image: Hungarian Jews disembarking from a train upon arrival at Auschwitz – May/June 1944, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.