1/17/2018

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day
The Liberation of Auschwitz

On November 1, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 60/7 establishing January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The total number of deaths attributed to Nazi concentration camps cannot be confirmed but it has been estimated to be well over 6 million people, mostly civilians. Concentration camps were located throughout Nazi held territories, but the largest and most notorious one was located at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland.

On January 27, 1945, Russian troops liberated Auschwitz, Nazi Germanys largest concentration camp. On that day, the world began to learn of the unspeakable horrors that took place at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Initially built in 1939 on the outskirts of the city of Auschwitz, the camp was first used to house Polish political prisoners. But during the war, the German SS started using it as a slave labor complex and then turned it into a human extermination camp.

The name Auschwitz conjures up feeling of dread because it is the location where some of the worst atrocities humanity has ever inflicted upon itself took place. It became the main location for what the Nazis called "the final solution; the extermination of all Jews living in Europe."

As part of a network of prison camps, Auschwitz consisted of at least 300 barracks that were used to house prisoners, cremation ovens, corpse cellars, and gas chambers.

Located in south-western Poland, it is estimated that over 1.6 million men, women and children were systematically put to death at Auschwitz. The genocide at Auschwitz included over a million Jews, nearly 300,000 Russian prisoners of war, 150,000 Poles, and over 150,000 Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Gypsies, and citizens from other European countries.

Many prisoners were executed by firing squads, others died of starvation, exposure to the elements, disease, and still many more were herded into chambers and gassed to death.

Dr. Josef Mengele, notoriously known as the "Angel of Death," oversaw the performance of macabre and unimaginable medical experiments on thousands of inmates at Auschwitz. He determined who lived and who died at the camp.

The gas chambers, the tortures, the executions, the starvation, the millions of deaths, and the sheer inhumanity of it all has made Auschwitz the most infamous of all Nazi concentration camps.

As the war in the European theatre was turning in favor of the Allied Forces, the German SS attempted to cover up the horrors that had been perpetrated on the prisoners at Auschwitz. They began murdering the surviving prisoners, blowing up the crematoriums and "bath houses," and tried to destroy the evidence of the crimes against humanity that were committed there.

When the Russian army reached the outskirts of Auschwitz, the German SS troops were forced to flee. What the Russian army found was staggering. There were over 7000 sick and starving camp survivors, over 600 bodies, and a cache of evidence that the Germans didn't have time to destroy.

Just before the Russian army got to Auschwitz, the German Gestapo had rounded up over 60,000 prisoners that were well enough to walk and they were forced to march into Germany. Many died or were executed along the way.

The prisoners who survived Auschwitz gave horrifying accounts of the brutality they had to endure. It is estimated that over 7000 men, women, and children were killed each day in concentration camps.

Many of the Germans who served at Auschwitz were convicted of war crimes. Rudolf Hoss, the camp commandant, and his staff were tried and executed for their parts in the holocaust. Although hunted as a Nazi war criminal, Mengele escaped Germany and reportedly lived in South America until his death in 1979.

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