On January 27, the world remembers the sorrow of the Holocaust in which millions of Jews were murdered along with those with disabilites, homosexuals, suspected communists, and non-Aryans in Nazi Germany during World War Two. Jews were primarily targeted. They were blamed by Nazi Germany for the economic and imperialistic struggles of the nation. As a result, they were brutally gathered in concentration camps as prisoners. They toiled as slave labor for the German Riech. Later, many were brought into extermination camps to be murdered in a program later known as the Final Solution. The Nazi government kept these programs classified, so the Allies were oblivious to the genocide at first. As the Allied forces closed in on Germany, the Nazis increased the rate in which they murdered people in these camps. Many died of starvation or disease before being executed in gas chambers.
Years later, people around the world recognize those lost in the horrors of that time, their lives and future generations lost by racism and hatred. Thankfully, there were some who managed to survive the enmity.
Elie Wiesel was born in Romania in the late 1920s with three sisters. He eventually went to school for religious studies. Though his parents differed in their interpretations on Judaism, Wiesel was heavily influenced by each of their ideologies. As the Nazis began to take over Europe, Wiesel and his family were deported to Auschwitz in Poland. He and his father worked in Buna, a work camp. When the Nazis realized Buna was on the verge of liberation, its captives were forced to march in the winter to Gleiwitz, a different concentration camp. Many died from exposure in the march.
His parents and youngest sister succumbed to the abhorrent events of the Holocaust. Wiesel not only saw death in his own family, but also those of his fellow prisoners. They were choked by gas, murdered on sight, and eaten up by famine and disease. Like Wiesel, those who managed to survive were traumatized by the violent suffering.
On January 27, 1945 Auschwitz was liberated by Allied forces. Other concentration camps and extermination camps were liberated in the same time span. Wiesel and his two other sisters were liberated in April of that year. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz over the course of five years, while only around 200,000 survived it. Many who were liberated died of malnutrition and disease in the weeks and months following.
After World War Two was concluded, Wiesel lived and worked in France. He authored a few books there before moving to New York City. In the States, he married and had a child.
In 11th grade English at OMHS, students are reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Night is his most well known piece, detailing his experience in the Holocaust. Wiesel made it the mission of his life to ensure that the memory of the genocide never fades and to prevent future genocides. While he wrote 57 books, his most poignant works, including Night, are written on the Holocaust.
Wiesel writes candidly about how the Nazis treated the Jews as commodities. Men were evaluated to be used as slave labor. Countless babies were burned. Captives were stripped naked and robbed of their dignity. Wiesel’s fellow prisoners were reduced to their survival instincts, death constantly on their doorsteps.
It is because of those lost in the Holocaust, survivors, and continued anti-Semitism that we remember the mass slaughter of millions and pay homage. Those of us privileged enough to be educated about the events instead of experiencing them owe those who did the reverence of their struggles. We must remember the genocide against our own species so that humankind may be improved upon. May we never become complacent in our attempts to empathize not just with those affected, but with one another. Let us not be neutral to the atrocities we commit on ourselves, for the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.
“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
Wiesel passed away in Manhattan, at his home, on July 2, 2016. His impact on the world lives on long after him.