There were rumors. There were reports. And there was speculation. But seeing the horror forced everyone to face the reality of what had been happening. Seventy-five years ago, the first glimpses were seen. The horror was recognized. Seventy-five years ago, the world saw. On January 27, 1945, 75 years ago, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated.
Auschwitz was not the first concentration camp to be liberated by Soviet soldiers as they slowly beat back the Nazis across Poland, but it is the most well-known and well-recognized of the numerous Nazi German death camps. As the Soviet soldiers opened the gates of Auschwitz, there were approximately 7,000 people to be liberated in three camps that made up Auschwitz. The soldiers were also greeted by hundreds of corpses that the retreating enemy had shot before fleeing, as well as hundreds of thousands of articles of clothing and literal tons of human hair.
The living who were left behind were barely living, with the majority suffering serious illness due to the harsh treatment they had received. Even to battle hardened soldiers, the sight that met them upon entering was shocking. For some of the Auschwitz survivors, liberation meant staying put – they were too weak to be moved from the camp, even months later. Throughout its time in operation, approximately 1.1 million prisoners, largely Jews, were murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers, through the medical experiments of Josef Mengele and other doctors, or by being shot.
The gates of Auschwitz still stand tall – still emblazoned with the words “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (work will set you free). They stand, along with much of the rest of the camp as a reminder of what happens when a blind eye is turned. When passiveness is practiced. When the attitude of “it doesn’t affect me,” selfishness, is held. It stands as witness to those who wish to deny the horrors that took place inside.
The United Nations and the European Union have recognized January 27, as International Holocaust Memorial Day. This year, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, world leaders are coming together to remember all those who died and suffered from the atrocities of the holocaust. It is a day to remember the horrors that took place, in the hopes that the world will never forget, and never allow it to happen again.
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