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FEATURE | FEBRUARY 2015

 

70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Camps
by Magdalena Kubow

On the 27th of January, the international community, American and Canada included, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. Generally, we think of liberation as something glorious, something celebrated. But the response was not as jubilant as one may suspect. Many who were “liberated” immediately faced a plethora of challenges ranging from not over-eating (which usually resulted in death), finding safe shelter, and locating surviving relatives. Holocaust survivor Elly Gotz often recounts his experience of liberation during his many well-received talks to schools around the globe. After being liberated from Dachau by Soviet troops, his weakened and malnourished father, Julius Gotz, responded to the news by asking when his soup ration would be available; a very genuine concern. Liberation symbolized very real and new concerns, and not a time of care-free celebrations.

The eventual defeat of Nazi Germany was surely cause for joy in the Allied world, but the liberation of the camps was not celebrated with parades, banners, and sensuous kisses in the street. Shortly after the war, Holocaust survivors had to re-build their lives, often in hostile environments, with little support. In North America, too, the reception of survivors was lack-luster. But as time passed and our collective memory grew, we began to acknowledge the true horror that the Holocaust represented, and that celebrating those who survived those horrors was necessary.

Currently, conditions for many around the world are far from favorable. International manifestations of antisemitism are apparent on our front pages daily, as well as other manifestations of hatred and prejudice. Shortly after the war, the Polish American Journal wrote an article recognizing the twelfth “week of brotherhood,” a Jewish and Christian initiative meant to inspire peace and religious tolerance. It was, as President Roosevelt described in 1936, “an experiment in understanding; a venture in neighborliness.” This was a time where regardless of faith, race, or ethnicity, people would join to focus on one another’s humanity and not what divides us. The PAJ stated that fascism and all forms of hatred should not, and could not, be the ideology that ever prevails, not during the war, nor after. Instead, the week of brotherhood should inspire an attitude of neighborliness not only for seven days, but all year long. In 2015, we could use this example and apply it, not only during the week of commemoration, but every day, so that “never again” represents a genuine reflection of what we stand for as a tolerant and civilized nation.

Magdalena Kubow is a Ph.D. Candidate ABD, History Department at Western University, and a Course Instructor, Modern Languages Department & History Department at King’s University College, London, Ontario, Canada.

 

 

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