WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Survivors recalled their agony to a world they fear is forgetting, Israel’s parliamentary speaker wept in the German parliament and politicians warned of a resurgence of antisemitism on Thursday’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The day falls on the anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious of the death camps where Nazi Germany carried out its Final Solution seeking to murder the Jewish people of Europe.
From the archives (October 2021): Antisemitic graffiti found on barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau museum
At the memorial site in Poland, which was subjected to a brutal German occupation during World War II, a small number of survivors gathered in an auditorium.
Attendance at the yearly event was sharply curtailed amid Europe’s coronavirus surge. Others joined online.
Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, most of them Jews, but also Poles, Roma and others.
From the archives (September 2021): Pope Francis’s visit to Roma settlement during pilgrimage to Slovakia and Hungary carries message of inclusivity and mutual acceptance
Also (May 2021): Pope Francis kisses Auschwitz tattoo of Holocaust survivor
Halina Birenbaum, a 92-year-old Polish-born poet who lives in Israel, recalled her suffering remotely. She was 10 when the Germans invaded and occupied Poland in September 1939, and was 13 when she was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau after being led out of the gas chamber of the Majdanek camp thanks to a malfunction.
“I saw masses of the powerful but arrogant army of Nazi Germany as they marched cruelly, victoriously, into the devastated and burning streets of Warsaw,” she recalled.
“The countless experiences of infinite suffering on the brink of death are already a distant, unimaginable story for new generations,” she said.
Commemorations everywhere took place amid a rise of antisemitism that gained traction during lockdowns as the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated hatred online.
German parliament speaker Baerbel Bas said the pandemic has acted “like an accelerant” to already burgeoning antisemitism.
“Antisemitism is here — it isn’t just on the extreme fringe, not just among the eternally incorrigible and a few antisemitic trolls on the net,” she said. “It is a problem of our society — all of society.”
From the archives (July 2020): Holocaust survivors push Facebook to remove denial posts
In recent days alone, a 12-year-old Jewish boy in Italy was attacked and subjected to antisemitic slurs while two men were punched in London.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the London attack “is a terrible reminder, on Holocaust Memorial Day, that such prejudice is not consigned to history, but remains a very real problem in society.”
Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher, 87, told the German parliament she still remembers “the terrible time of horror and hatred.”
“Unfortunately, this cancer has reawakened and hatred of Jews is commonplace again in many countries in the world, including Germany,” she said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a virtual U.N. Holocaust remembrance ceremony Thursday that he has made tackling the roots of intolerance an urgent priority. “Antisemitism, virulent anti-Muslim bigotry, persecution of Christians, racism, and anti-refugee hatred are becoming normalized in a coarsening public discourse — often amplified in online echo chambers of hate,” he said.