Holocaust Remembrance Day: #WeRemember
Every year on 27 January, the date marks the liberation of the prisoners held in in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, victims of the Holocaust are commemorated all around the world.
World War II, one of the darkest periods in world history, is remembered for the Nazis’ mass annihilation policy against groups considered outside of the “superior race”. During the Holocaust, which can be described as the most extreme example of antisemitism, it is estimated that around four million Jews were either killed or died due to torture and diseases in the Nazi concentration camps, which numbered around thousand. Others were killed in either “death marches” or mass killings in “ghetto” areas. At the end of the war, around six million Jews, in other words two third of the Jew population in Europe before World War II, died during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust is defined as the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators. The Nazis, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were a threat to the so-called German racial community. The Nazi regime who came to power in Germany in January 1933 also targeted other groups systematically: Roma people, people with disabilities, Slavic groups (Poles, Russians, and others), and Black people. Other groups including communists, socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals were imprisoned and/or murdered as well.
Discriminatory policies, violence and massacres gradually led up to the Holocaust. Many laws were enacted before the World War II, most notably the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which took away the civil rights of Jewish people. During this period, Jews were removed from critical positions, forced to live in ghettos, and properties of them were confiscated.
Harry Bibring, who survived the Holocaust, was forced to leave his school after the Nazis came to power. In his memoirs, he describes how the synagogues in Vienna were burned down and his father’s shop was looted during the antisemitic attacks known as Kristallnacht in 1938. He shares his experiences at school:
“Teachers didn’t want anything to do with me, they treated me like vermin. They wouldn’t speak to me or answer questions, because they were scared. They didn’t want to get a reputation that they were teaching Jews, that was dangerous, bad for their career.”
Judith Rosenzweig, who was deported with her family to the ghetto in Terezin in 1942 and sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp with her family in 1944 after two years in Terezin, says in an interview:
“Trains were constantly leaving. We had no idea what happened to the people who were taken away They took us in 1944. When we arrived in Auschwitz, women were put in one line and men in another. The last time I saw my dad was standing here among other men. When you arrive at Auschwitz, the camp doctor, Josef Mengele, decided who was suitable for work. Those who were not suitable were immediately sent to the gas chambers. He had decided that I, my mother, and my sibling were suitable for work. They took us to a shed where we undressed and handed our clothes. There, they showed us the showers and gave us very thin clothes. The next day Mengele came and decided again who would be sent to work.”
The genocide, or the mass murder of Jews in concentration camps, was the result of racist policies that had intensified over the course of a decade. Those who survived the harsh journeys to the concentration camps were forced to work by regime forces, used in medical experiments, or systematically killed in gas chambers. Considering all its stages, the Holocaust resulted in the murder of Jews in Europe by exposing them to gas, execution by firing squad and other forms.
For those who survived, it was impossible to return to life as it was before the Holocaust. When survivors tried to return to their homes from the camps or shelters, they often found their homes looted or seized by others. Many survivors were reluctant to return to their homes due to the continuing influence of antisemitism in some parts of Europe and the trauma they had experienced. Those who returned to their homes worried about their own lives. Many of the survivors had to go to refugee camps in Western Europe, which were established in areas where concentration camps were previously located. There they waited to be admitted to places like the United States, South Africa, or Palestine. At first, most countries maintained their old immigration policies for some time, which greatly restricted the number of refugees that could be accepted. After the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, many Jews immigrated to Israel. 
Maja Hrabowska describes the trauma she experienced after the Holocaust:
“The past is always with me. It has long, cold fingers, and catches me unprepared, at night mostly, when I wake up in sweat. I’m part of the generation that survived the Holocaust, the total war on Jews, and particularly on Jewish children. We were hated, the first to suffer, the first to perish. I blamed myself. What did I do to deserve it?”
Genocide was not defined as a crime until 1946, and no legal framework existed to address the mass murder of communities. After the establishment of the United Nations (UN), it was also on the agenda to recognize the mass murders by Nazis. With the effect of the trials of war criminals in Nuremberg, the UN General Assembly approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide in 1948, which codifies genocide is a crime under international law and makes it and its incitement and punishable. Turkey also signed this Convention on March 23, 1950. According to the Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 
Today, when we commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, it is important to remember that the Holocaust did not happen all at once and was grounded on the Nazi regime’s propaganda and antisemitism, which was also prevalent within the German society. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that similar tragedies do not happen again and to say “never again.” Today, attacks, violence and discrimination against Jews or other groups remain a serious problem. Raising awareness on the Holocaust, one of the greatest massacres in human history, and understanding the consequences of uncontrollable hatred and collective silence is also important, especially in terms of preventing current human rights violations, massacres and hate crimes. In this sense, especially states should invest in education and training to strengthen awareness in society, establish an education system to combat discrimination, and work specifically to prevent forms of discrimination in the field of education. In addition, states should enact anti-discrimination laws within the scope of international human rights law and take necessary steps to implement these laws effectively.
Some resources on combating antisemitism:
- Antisemitism report prepared by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
- Holocaust Encyclopedia
- Addressing Anti-Semitism through Education