From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not Much
Mains level : Liberation of Auschwitz
- Yesterday on January 27th survivors of the Holocaust and international heads of state marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
- During the Second World War, the government of Nazi Germany killed approximately 17 million people across Europe in half a dozen camps specifically designated for killings.
- Of these seven killing centers, the camp at Auschwitz, perhaps the most well known, was the largest in size.
Why is January 27 an important date in Holocaust history?
- During the final stages of the Second World War, months before the fall of Nazi Germany, Nazi officials began forcibly moving prisoners between the camps spread across Europe.
- Called ‘Death Marches’, this forcible displacement on foot over long distances in the bitter cold, with little to no food resulted in many deaths.
- Some researchers believe that prisoners were moved from camps to prevent the liberation of prisoners held inside these camps and to also remove evidence of crimes against humanity perpetrated by Nazi officials.
- Prisoners who were very ill and disabled were left to die in the abandoned camps.
Rescue of Auschwitz
- Allied forces advanced from the West while soldiers belonging to the Red Army of the Soviet Union began entering concentration camps and killing centers across Europe, liberating survivors.
- The first camp that the Red Army soldiers liberated was the Majdanek camp in Poland in July 1944.
- The Army entered Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, finding hundreds of sick, starving and exhausted prisoners, who had somehow survived.
- In 2005, the UN-designated January 27 as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
What occurred during the liberation of Auschwitz?
- Along with surviving prisoners, the Red Army also found hordes of items belonging to the prisoners that had been stripped from them by Nazi officials when they first arrived at Auschwitz.
- The prisoners were so weak after having been starved for prolonged periods of time, that despite medical intervention, many died days after their rescue.
- Several soldiers in the Red Army and in the Allied troops later gave testimonies concerning the sights that awaited them when they first entered the camps in Auschwitz and elsewhere.
- Although Nazi officials had destroyed many warehouses and crematoria where property looted from prisoners had been stored and where bodies had been disposed, liberating troops still found evidence of the crimes and brutality perpetrated against the prisoners.
What made Auschwitz unique?
- Historical records show that despite attempts by Nazi officials to obliterate prisoners, particularly those at Auschwitz, there were survivors who lived to provide testimony against Nazi officials.
- Several factors set Auschwitz apart from other camps across Europe.
- The camp at Auschwitz had originally been built to hold Polish political prisoners but by March 1942, it became one of the main centres for the Nazi’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
Aftermath of the Holocaust
- Trials were held against Nazi officers and people who worked inside the camps in various capacities and perpetrated crimes against humanity in the camps of Auschwitz and elsewhere in Europe.
- These individuals included both men and women, many who escaped accountability for their crimes after the fall of Nazi Germany.
- To evade justice, many SS officers changed their identities and escaped to other parts of Europe, the US and to other parts of the world.
- The camps at Auschwitz have become an important reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust and in 1947 the government of Poland made the site a state memorial.
- In 1979, UNESCO added the Auschwitz memorial to its list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.