Awful Remembrance

Emptied barracks at Birkenau (Brzezinka)

Image: Birkenau by Turbo Mi

Yesterday was the fifth annual observance of the United Nation’s International Holocaust Day of Remembrance. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly
selected 27 January as the date of “universal commemoration” in memory of the victims of the holocaust as it was on that date, 60 years earlier, that Soviet troops liberated the largest of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The International Holocaust Day of Remembrance is distinct from Yom HaShoah, a day of Jewish commemoration that is fixed on the Jewish calendar (April or May).

My friend Jay reminded me of the U.N. international day, sending along an MSN link of popular sites relevant to the day.  The United Nations has a moving program of remembrance you can access here.  Additionally, yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the arrival of Soviet troops at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the Russian Times ran a  moving video feature–just over 6 minutes, in English, worth waiting for the remarkable personal remembrance of a Russian-Jewish man who survived Auschwitz twice!–you can access the video here.

Some personal notes, in passing:  my mother (now 93) was 28 years old when she faced selektion at Auschwitz; evidently, she was regarded as robust enough to be selekted for a work detail in northwestern Germany.  It wasn’t until my conversations with her in the late 1980’s that I began to understand how the grammar and diction of her remembrance differed from ours.  At the time, she didn’t show any signs of recognizing the name “Auschwitz” telling me instead that she’d been at a camp called Oświęcim (pronounced osh-veeyen-chim) which, I later “discovered” was the name of the Polish village that had been Germanized into Auschwitz.  Like many others of her background whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over the years, my mother tended to not use the same terms we use for remembrance.  For example, where we might say “victim” they’ll tend to say prisoner or inmate.  Where we will say “survivor” they’ll tend to prefer the term “remnant.”  And, when we might ascribe to them the characterisitcs of personal “heroism” or “fortitude” they’ll correct us with something like “dumb luck.”


~ by matt on 28 January 2010.

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Natalie E. Illum...

is a poet, performer and disability activist. Bring her stumbling to your city.

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