Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It’s also Holocaust Memorial Day.
Whatever day, whatever time, you can’t fail to notice the Stumbling stones, or Stolperstein, that litter my street in the old Jewish quarter of Berlin. It’s a daily reminder of the horrors that befell so many. And most were Jews.
1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, 1.1 million of whom were Jews. Almost 1 million of them were murdered – mostly gassed to death. And to think that some of those victims used to live on my street. I can’t bear to think how they were taken from their homes or what they must have endured at Auschwitz.
We live next door to a Jewish school that used to be a home for elderly Jews. But the Nazis turned it into a Jewish deportation centre with the majority ending up at Auschwitz. Next to that building is a Jewish cemetary. It used to be the oldest in Berlin, until the Nazis ransacked it. Now it’s become a memorial garden.
And there are other memorials on my street, with the New Synagogue just around the corner. Until the National Socialists came to power in the 1930s, this was the centre of a vibrant, Jewish community.
I’ve been listening to and writing about the stories of some of the Auschwitz survivors for Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. Jeanette Spiegel, who’s 96, has bravely returned to the conentration camp for the 75th anniversary commemorations. Not only did she survive the death camp but she also survived the death march. She remembers stepping over the bodies of fellow prisoners who’d been shot by the fleeing Nazi guards because they were too weak to march.
What upset me most was her reply to a question about the rise of antisemitism across the world, including here in Germany. “Antisemitism did not die,” she said. “We must be careful.”
And that is why this 75th anniversary is so important. There are only a few Auschwitz survivors left. We mustn’t let their memories die too. We must never forget.