“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.” - Elie Wiesel
January 27, 2019 (Toronto) – On this day in 1945, the armies of the Soviet Union reached the small town of Oswiecim in Eastern Poland. Advancing through the gates of what appeared to be an abandoned complex, they came across a sight that must have shocked even the battle-hardened veterans of the Red Army. They had found the epicentre of the Kingdom of Death. They had arrived at Auschwitz. Although the Nazis had, in mid -1944, begun the evacuation of the camp and attempted to destroy all evidence of the crimes committed there. The prisoners who remained, the corpses left unburned, and the evidence of mass murder left no doubt as to the horrors that had happened. How else to explain the warehouses filled with hundreds of thousand of women’s dresses, men’s suits, suitcases, tangles of eyeglasses, shoes and more than eight tons of human hair?
The sprawling camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau has become the symbol of the Holocaust, the state-sponsored murder of six million Jewish men, women and children. While the camp is the most infamous part of the mechanism of genocide it did not do its work alone. There were the other death camps – Belzec, Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek – and the ghettoes where the Nazis and their collaborators allowed disease, starvation and daily terror to do their work. And there were the killing fields in the East, where mobile killing units – the Einsatzgruppen – roamed behind the advancing Wehrmacht to murder more than one million Jews in what has been called the Holocaust by bullets. All of this done in the name of National Socialism, a hateful ideology that declared that Jews along with others were inferior, dangerous, disposable. The Holocaust is neither the first nor the last of the genocides that have stained human history but it offers a frightening lesson of how hatred can take hold of a society and how, left unchecked and unchallenged, it can mutate into murder on an inconceivable scale.
“It is imperative that we remember the victims of the Holocaust and heed the lessons of the survivors and historians,” said Teresa Woo-Paw ,Chairperson of the Board, Canadian Race Relations Foundation. “Tragedies of such scale compel each generation to ask how such evil could take place, and to demand its own vigilance to ensure that genocide will not happen in their time.”
“The Holocaust and its dark siblings - the Armenian Genocide, the Holodomor, the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi and the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia – haunt us to this day,” said Dr. Lilian Ma, Executive Director, Canadian Race Relations Foundation. “They do so because we recognize in each of these tragedies, that inhumanity does not grow in the soil of any one nation. Rather, its potential – like the potential for heroism – lies dormant in each of us. As the historian Raul Hilberg wrote, ‘at crucial junctures, every individual makes decisions … every decision is individual.’”
Zachor. We will remember, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, that human beings are capable of inflicting inhumane acts on others, and that all humanity must stand up to ensure that what happened during the Holocaust will never happen again.
About the Canadian Race Relations Foundation
The purpose of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is to facilitate throughout Canada the development, sharing and application of knowledge and expertise in order to contribute to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society. The work of the Foundation is premised on the desire to create and nurture an inclusive society based on equity, social harmony, mutual respect and human dignity. Its underlying principle in addressing racism and racial discrimination emphasizes positive race relations and the promotion of shared Canadian values of human rights and democratic institutions.
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