Australians in their thousands gather on April 25 every year at Gallipoli, Villers Bretonneux and cenotaphs throughout Australia, to honor their compatriots, the Diggers who fought and died in the “Great War”, as well as its 18 million other victims, combatants on both sides but also civilians whom generals and politicians call “collateral”. We feel a duty to mark the anniversaries of both World Wars and recently the centenary of the beginning of what was supposed to be the War to End All Wars. Lest we forget.
Yesterday, January 27, 2015, the world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the German concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland, an enormous prison complex covering fifteen square miles, a “death factory” infamous for the assassination of over one million Jews. Lest we forget.
But this was unique among anniversaries of war. Imagine any nation deciding on other “Final Solutions” : the extermination of the world’s … Buddhists, or black people, or all women, or the world’s children, or redheads, or Christians, or musicians, or Muslims, or plumbers, or atheists. What happened in Auschwitz, unique among the many other concentration camps created by Nazi Germany, beginning with Dachau in 1933, was the slaughter of up to 2000 Jews per hour. Yesterday we remembered not just the victims of war, but the massacre of six million men and women and children condemned to die atrocious deaths because they were Jewish. This was not quite the same as an Anzac Day remembrance service, the commemoration of D-Day, or the celebration of Armistice. We are staggering once again at the realization of just how inhuman human beings can be.
It was more than moving to witness yesterday afternoon on television the testimonies of three of the last survivors of the hell that was Auschwitz. There will be few left at future anniversaries, and before long, none at all. But the world must never forget how far racism and intolerance can go. Auschwitz must endure as a permanent reminder of what can happen when blind fanaticism festers into maniacal hatred and unspeakable horror.