On this day in 1945 at 9:00am, the first Russian soldier of the 100th Infantry Division of the 106th Corps arrives in Monowitz (one of the camps connected to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex). Of the 850 sick prisoners in Monowitz infirmary more than 200 have died by the time they are liberated on Jan 27.
The task of liberating Auschwitz-Birkenau falls to the 60th Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front where they find “7,000 sick and exhausted prisoners… 4,000 of whom are women.” On the same day that Auschwitz is liberated, however, 2,000 female prisoners from the death march finally arrive at Ravensbruck. The last transports from Auschwitz-Birkenau arrive at Mauthausen with 6,025 prisoners, and there are still 3,000 women on the death march for what will end up being 185 miles and does not end until the beginning of February (Source Czech 801-805). These are the facts of this day, and yet what I urge us to do is look for some deeper meaning in this madness.
We have to put the horror into some kind of meaningful context or it becomes too overwhelming to comprehend or even digest. It has taken me years to find a way to do that, but I am convinced both by the survivors I have been honored to know and write about and by my own journey to Auschwitz, that the message of Auschwitz is so much larger than the horror, the horror.
The way I am able to fathom Auschwitz, without being completely undone by its atrocities, is to see a larger message than the one of death. What I believe is the deeper message of Auschwitz is Life. This is our challenge–to honor every moment of every day, and to live our lives to their fullest. Don’t waste a single moment. Make your life something to be proud of to herald. The message of Auschwitz is a message to stand for your convictions. Be courageous. Act morally. To remember that every single act of kindness counts. Even something as small as giving a potato to a Jew was an act of moral courage.
Rena—the 716 woman in Auschwitz—wanted us to know the facts of the camps, which is why I have started this blog, but even more than the day to day facts, she wanted us to know the names of every single person who helped she and her sister survive. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day to acknowledge the attempted genocide of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and Homosexuals, but it is also day to remember our armed forces, the soviet armed forces who liberated Auschwitz, the French resistance, the Polish resistance, all the brave men and women who risked their lives to fight fascism. It is a day to remember the incredible beauty of the human spirit to survive and help each other.
Shalom, Heather Dune Macadam