Thursday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the date that the Auschwitz concentration camp — which saw at least 1.1 million killed, including 960,000 Jews — was liberated, and serves to remember the millions of victims of the Holocaust.
In all, 6 million Jews perished in the genocide, along with millions of other persecuted groups – including Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, homosexuals and people with disabilities.
Commemorations worldwide are still muted this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — and are taking place amid a rise of antisemitism. Experts have warned that pandemic lockdowns have led to a surge in hatred online.
“I have lived in New York for 75 years, but I still remember well the terrible time of horror and hatred,” Inge Auerbacher, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor, told the German parliament on Thursday. “Unfortunately, this cancer has reawakened and hatred of Jews is commonplace again in many countries in the world.”
It also comes just weeks after the attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, when a man took four people hostage during a Shabbat service. Thankfully, the hostages were all either released or freed before the gunman was subdued by federal authorities; the FBI said last week that it is investigating the incident as an “act of terrorism” and a “federal hate crime.”
In a statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Joe Biden invoked the Texas synagogue attack, condemning hate, bigotry and antisemitism in all its forms.
“Today, and every day, we have a moral obligation to honor the victims, learn from the survivors, pay tribute to the rescuers, and carry forth the lessons of last century’s most heinous crime,” Biden said.
“From the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, to a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, we are continually and painfully reminded that hate doesn’t go away; it only hides,” he added. “And it falls to each of us to speak out against the resurgence of antisemitism and ensure that bigotry and hate receive no safe harbor, at home and around the world.”
The president will welcome Bronia Brandman, a survivor of Auschwitz who lost her parents and four of her five siblings in the Holocaust.
“She could not speak of her experiences for half-a-century,” Biden wrote. “Today, she’ll share her story at the White House—and speak for millions who never got the chance.”
Brandman, a nonagenarian, told The Associated Press in 2020 that she could not speak about her experience for 50 years, but said her reason for surviving the camps was to tell her story — which was especially important in later years, referencing the lack of Holocaust knowledge in younger people.
“We need to teach our children what words, what racism, what lies mean,” she told the AP.
Brandman told the AP her first memory at Auschwitz was of Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted horrific experiments on prisoners at the camp.
“We had to pass him, and it was our turn. He wore white gloves and he pointed to the three of us to the left,” she said. "He pointed Mila, my oldest sister to the right. I knew what was in store for us. I had nothing to lose. I ran to my sister’s line."
She then realized what she had done: “It meant my baby sisters were going to the gas chambers alone.”
But Brandman survived, driven to tell her story. She eventually moved to the United States after the camps were liberated, became a teacher and started a family.
“I still cannot cry. It is just too, too horrible,” she said in 2020. “I find my reason for living is to talk about our story.”
Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, met with Ruth Cohen, a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned in multiple concentration camps, along with her husband, daughter and granddaughter.
Harris conveyed the Biden Administration’s commitment to combatting antisemitism and hatred to Cohen, as well as the importance of staying vigilant and teaching our children the truth about the horrors of the Holocaust, according to the VP’s office.
“We must teach accurately about the Holocaust and push back against attempts to ignore, deny, distort, and revise history—as we did this month, when the United States co-sponsored a UN resolution that charged the international community with combating Holocaust denial through education,” Biden wrote in his statement. “We must continue to pursue justice for survivors and their families. And we must ensure that aging survivors have access to the services they need to live out their lives in dignity.”
“We cannot redeem the past,” Biden concluded. “But, on this day, as we mourn humanity’s capacity to inflict inhuman cruelty, let us commit to making a better future and to always upholding the fundamental values of justice, equality, and diversity that strengthen free societies.”
Other Biden administration officials and other prominent figures weighed in, including Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama.
“On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor the victims and survivors of one of the darkest periods in our history,” Obama wrote on Twitter. “But it’s not enough to remember — we also need to have the courage to speak out against acts of bigotry and hatred whenever we see them.”
“On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor innocent Jewish and other lives lost,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote. “We honor, too, Holocaust survivors; those who saw true evil, and whose lives were unalterably shaped by it. We must always speak up against antisemitism and hate against any and all groups.”
Spectrum News' Austin Landis contributed to this report.