Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, delivers a speech during a ceremony in the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz during ceremonies marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the camp in Brzezinka, Poland, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. AP photo by Michal Dyjuk.
At Auschwitz, the Nazis murdered about 1.1 million people, mostly Jews. Today, the Third Reich’s largest concentration and extermination camp exists as a memorial to those who died there. It is also a museum, offering visitors a chilling reminder of how thin the veneer of civilization truly is.
The Nazis established Auschwitz in occupied Poland in 1940. The camp expanded over the next five years — evolving from a concentration camp into the Nazi’s largest extermination center known as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Victims died by poison gas, disease, malnutrition, sadistic medical experimentation, and physical abuse.
Today, Auschwitz’s weather-worn barbed-wire fences and ruined gas chambers testify to the evil ideology that fueled a madman’s delusions. Yet, these ruins are not evidence of evil’s defeat. Rather, they remind us that the fight is never over. Every generation has its own responsibility to keep evil at bay. And ours is no exception.
“Once again innocent people are being killed en masse in Europe. Russia, unable to conquer Ukraine, has decided to destroy it,” Piotr Cywinski, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum director, said in an address on Friday, Jan. 27, to mark the 78th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Soviet soldiers.
Jan. 27 is Holocaust Memorial Day, a date to remember the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany from the 1930s until 1945. The words “never again” have long been intoned as a global pledge to never allow the Holocaust’s horrors to be repeated in our time. Yet, the past 78 years have seen more genocides, more wars, and more crimes against humanity. And today, the same dark ideologies that gave rise to Nazi Germany’s crimes have resurfaced again in modern Russia, spurring Kremlin leaders to embark on an unprovoked, genocidal war of aggression against Ukraine.
The mass murders carried out by Russian soldiers in Kyiv’s outlying suburbs of Bucha and Irpin, as well as the apocalyptic destruction Russian forces have wrought on cities like Mariupol, Marinka, and Bakhmut, highlight how little, if at all, the dark side of human nature has changed since World War II, the deadliest conflict in history.
“Similar sick megalomania, similar lust for power, and almost same-sounding myths of exceptionalism, of greatness, of primacy … only written in Russian,” Cywinski said in his Jan. 27 address, equating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Nazi crimes in World War II.
Organizers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum did not invite Russian officials to take part in this year’s liberation commemoration — a snub meant to condemn Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The decision drew the Kremlin’s ire.
“The memory of the horrors of Nazism and the Soviet heroes-liberators cannot be erased,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote in a Telegram post on Thursday.
People place candles at the former crematorium as they attend a ceremony in the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz during ceremonies marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the camp in Brzezinka, Poland, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. AP photo by Michal Dyjuk.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated a well-worn propaganda yarn about Russia’s efforts to “de-Nazify” Ukraine — an effort that’s comprised a full-scale invasion, the razing of multiple cities and towns, indiscriminate air strikes against civilian areas, and a campaign of mass murder and rape prosecuted by Russian soldiers. Yet, Putin used his Holocaust Memorial Day address to blame Ukrainians — the victims — for the crimes Russia committed against them.
“This is evidenced by the crimes against civilians, ethnic cleansing and punitive actions organized by neo-Nazis in Ukraine. It is against that evil that our soldiers are bravely fighting,” Putin said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, visited the Babyn Yar ravine in Kyiv, the site of a Nazi mass shooting of Jews in 1941, to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.
“We know and remember that indifference kills along with hatred. Indifference and hatred are always capable of creating evil together,” Zelenskyy said in a Jan. 27 address. “The more nations of the world overcome indifference, the less space there will be in the world for hatred.”