Holocaust Memorial Day – We will shout with one voice: ‘NEVER AGAIN!’Equalities January 19 2022
This day will commemorate the exact date when the army of the former USSR liberated Auschwitz and revealed to the world the sheer scale of Nazi barbarism…
In the afternoon of 27th January 1945, soldiers from the 322nd Rifle Division of the Soviet Union’s 60th Army arrived at what initially appeared to be an abandoned prison camp in southern Poland, having spent that day and previous days and weeks fighting and winning fierce and gruelling gun battles and losing hundreds of men against Nazi forces.
Then a 21-year-old Red Army lieutenant, Ivan Martynushkin talked in later years of how he and his fellow riflemen had entered the desolate site with no inkling of the horrors they were to find.
In a fascinating 2015 interview with Yelena Polyakovskaya for Radio Free Europe, Martynushkin said that after having beaten back the enemy around the town of Oswiecim, he and his men “came out onto some kind of enormous field almost completely surrounded by electrified barbed-wire fences and watchtowers.
“We saw buildings beyond the barbed wire. And as we got closer, we began to see there were people. There were no guards or Germans behind the barbed wire. Only prisoners.
“We saw emaciated people — very thin, tired, with blackened skin. They were dressed in all sorts of different ways – someone in just a robe, someone else with a coat or a blanket draped over their robe.”
Lieutenant Martynushkin and the brave fighters of the 322nd were in ‘Auschwitz 1’ – the main site of what, as the world was to discover, was the largest of the Nazi death camps.
Of the six million Jews killed in the holocaust perpetrated by the evil Nazi regime, almost a million Jewish men, women and children – 200,000 children – were killed at this enormous, industrial-scale slaughterhouse.
According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum website a total of 1.1 million people were murdered here – 960,000 of them Jews, of whom 865,000 were slaughtered in gas chambers and approximately 90,000 were either worked to death as concentration camp slave labour or shot or beaten to death.
Gentile Poles were the largest group of non-Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz, making up around 7 per cent of those killed – some 70-75,000 people worked to death, or shot, beaten or starved.
Approximately 20,000 of those killed were Gypsies, the third-most numerous group of Auschwitz victims – making up nearly 2 per cent of the total – and large numbers of Soviet prisoners of war and civilians were also incarcerated there, along with POWs, political prisoners and others from around occupied Europe.
Today, there is a museum and memorial centre which receives visitors from around the world and where some of the WWII buildings still stand, housing various artefacts from that horrific period to make sure that the people of all nations never forget the sheer inhumanity that human beings are capable of at their very worst.
‘Birds flying but no birdsong’
Last autumn, CWU area distribution rep for North Lancs & Cumbria Branch Lenny Crook visited Auschwitz with North West Region secretary Carl Webb and some friends of theirs from the Unite union and, speaking to CWU News about the trip, Lenny said: “It was such a profound experience that’s really hard to put into words – I’d say I’m glad that I went, although it’s very, very hard – I’d say harrowing.
“One thing that struck me straightaway was the eerie silence around the place. You’re in the open countryside, but there are no countryside noises, birds flying over but no birdsong.”
In the memorial museum, Lenny told us that he had felt strongly affected by some of the perhaps mundane artefacts, “such as the heaps of glasses – people’s spectacles – piles of false limbs and, most of all, the mountains of children’s shoes.
“We heard of how the Nazis tricked, or lulled, the people into thinking they were going for showers, telling them to put their clothes on numbered pegs and to remember the numbers. They were instead led into the gas chambers.
“Then you hear some personal stories, of individuals, where they’d come from and their fate when they got here. It’s all deeply moving.
“After we left the camp, none of us talked. We were sitting quietly all of us thinking, reflecting. That evening, we ate a meal in silence and then went to our beds. It had been a hard day.”
Would he advise others to visit the museum? We ask him, to which Lenny replies: “It’s totally an individual decision. I would say to anyone planning to go that yes, it’s very important to go, but it is very hard. It really impacts on you more than perhaps you might expect beforehand. Be prepared for that.
“But it’s right that it’s harrowing. It’s so important that the world never forgets – so that’s why it’s so important that the memorial museum is there.”
Never forget – never again!
Amarjite Singh, one of the two black, Asian and minority ethnic representatives on our union’s national executive council explains why the CWU puts such a high priority on this commemoration, telling CWU News: “Holocaust Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and commitment. It is a time in history that must never be forgotten.
“The Holocaust mass murders of Jews, prisoners of war, slave labourers, political opponents, religious and social minorities and many more, lie at the door of fascists and racists,” he says, adding: “Modern-day racists don’t realise they are on the slippery slope that ultimately leads to a path of similar extremism.”
“Our Holocaust remembrance starts with active struggle today to end racism in all walks-of-life.”