Today, January 27, marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on this date in 1945 that Soviet troops took control of the extensive Auschwitz labor and extermination complex that the Nazi Reich operated from 1940-45, finally liberating the remaining survivors.
Of the 1.3 million people who were taken to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered. Of that number, 865,000 Jews were killed by lethal gas upon arrival. Others succumbed to starvation, disease, beatings, execution, and medical experimentation.
The Red Army soldiers experienced shock and disbelief as they approached and liberated the camp. These were hardened men, having fought the Nazis since June 1941.
In December 1941, they had retreated to the outer perimeter of urban Moscow. Yet, they fought their way back after turning the tide of the war in late 1942 and were in the outskirts of Krakow, Poland, approaching the pre-war German-Polish border.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Holocaust Encyclopedia” has a page devoted to giving a brief descriptive overview of the “Nazi camps.” The Encyclopedia states that in its 12 years of existence, the Nazi state “established more than 44,000 camps and other incarceration sites (including ghettos).” And these were used for a “a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people thought to be enemies of the state, and for mass murder.” Imagine the death and destruction Soviet soldiers witnessed walking through the tragic scenes the Nazis left behind in Auschwitz.
In addition to the carnage in the camps, there was the endless destruction brought about by the war itself being fought eastward to Moscow and back to near-Germany with millions of men bombing, shelling, and shooting apart so much of the pre-war civilization that existed in these regions. They must have already seen many horrific sites in the past several years, yet Soviet soldiers were appalled by what they saw in Auschwitz. The level of brutality and depravity seen there was beyond comprehension. Of course, it still is.
Yet, the Nazis did not operate haphazardly. Hitler held to a racial hierarchy of human life. In it, the most despised were the Jews. The Nazis targeted the Jews and psychologically manipulated the German people to “other” them. They accused the Jews of being the source of every sort of evil in the world. Thus, their complete extermination would be a paramount goal of the Reich’s war aims.
The Holocaust is unique for its horror and scale in world history. In the other cases, the perpetrators of genocides targeted a people group because they occupied territory that that the perpetrator wanted free and clear: They lived next to each other, one group had to go. The extermination of the Jews by the Reich was a different thing altogether. Hitler sought the killing of the Jews in all places.
When the Nazis invaded North Africa, they brought SS killing teams to hunt down Jews in Africa. The Isle of Guernsey, Corfu, Tunisia, Norway, Sicily, the Caucuses—all became killing fields for Jews. There was no realpolitik reasoning for it.
Hitler sought a metaphysical purge of the Jews from the earth reminiscent of the same demonic drive exhibited in the Book of Esther (Esther 3:5-6). Satan hates God, and he hates the Jews for their relationship with Him. It is a hatred that never rests.
There has never been anything like the tragedy of the Holocaust. That is why we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We remember the victims, and we renew our commitment to Never Again allow this to happen.