IAC :: Remember the past, be responsible for the future

Stauffenbergstraße 13/14
10785 Berlin

fon: ++ 49 (030) 26 39 26 81
Telefax: ++ 49 (030) 26 39 26 83

URI: https://www.auschwitz.info/

Service navigation:
language navigation:
language navigation:
Roman Kent, President of the International Auschwitz Committee © Boris Buchholz
Roman Kent, President of the International Auschwitz Committee © Boris Buchholz 


27.1.2015: Remarks by Roman Kent, 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

But to remember is not enough – Deeds! Deeds as well as thoughts are crucial.

I am often asked how long I was in Auschwitz …. my answer is I do not know. But What I do know is that one minute in Auschwitz was like an entire day, a day was like a year, and a month an eternity. How many eternities can one person have in a single lifetime – I don’t know the answer to that either.

Zachor, Pamjentaj, Remember ….
This was the word my father frequently uttered to me during the Holocaust.

Today, seventy years later, that command to remember is indeed superfluous. For me, a survivor of Auschwitz to forget the horrific experiences endured in the concentration camps even for one moment is impossible. Witnessing the atrocities committed at the entrance gate to Auschwitz was more than enough to keep me awake at night …. until the end of time. It is there that the Germans welcomed and began to brutalize their guests. Horses were driven into families and groups of people forcing them apart and separating them – often forever – as camp guards slashed at us with whips that cut as sharply as finely swords.

Even seventy years later, the daily cruelty and inhuman behavior in the camps is still indelibly etched in my mind. The look of pleasure on the murderers’ faces and their laughter as they tortured innocent men, women, and children is beyond description and lingers in my consciousness. How can one erase the sight of the human skeletons, just skin and bones, but still alive? How can I ever forget the smell of burning flesh that permeated the air? Many of us came to Auschwitz not knowing each other in life; but most left together in death through the chimneys in the form of white-blue smoke.

The heartbreaking and weeping of the children, torn from their mother’s arms by the brutal action of their torturers, will ring in my ears until I am laid to rest. I continue to wonder if the cries of these youngsters ever penetrated heaven’s gate.

We survivors continuously came face-to-face with death; yet, despair was not our response. Despite hopelessness, we created life out of the world of darkness, and we now remember the all consuming evil we were forced to endure.

We survivors cannot – dare not – to forget the millions who were murdered. For if we were to forget, the conscience of mankind would be buried alongside the victims.

Today, in this place, we are part of the 70th Anniversary Commemorating the Liberation of Auschwitz held under auspices of the government of Poland. What a superb opportunity to extend a meaningful, heartfelt message to leaders of all nation to the world at large.

We must all Remember!

For, if you, the leaders in the world will remember, and to teach others to remember, then the Holocaust and other atrocities like Darfur, Biafra, Kosovo, as well as attacks as the present one in Paris, will have no place on the face of the earth.

But to remember is not enough –

Deeds! Deeds as well as thoughts are crucial.

It is our mutual obligation, that of survivors and that of national leaders, to instill in current and future generations the understanding of what happens when virulent prejudice and hatred are allowed to flourish.

We must all teach our children tolerance and understanding, both - at home and in school. For tolerance cannot be assumed …. it must be taught. we all must make it clear that hate is never right and love is never wrong!

When I think of Holocaust, as I often do, there are only a few holy acts that I consider really “holy,” and which redeem my faith in mankind. Without hesitation, the courageous and heroic deeds of the non-Jews, those we call Righteous Gentiles, who saved Jewish live during the Holocaust, fall into this category.

To save innocent Jewish live, the Righteous Gentiles endangered their own live, and often that of the familly,to save a life of the stranger. Righteous Gentiles, just a few against tens of millions, showed the world that the answer to tyranny and indifference is involvement and the courage to make moral choices and act in accordance with those choices.

Their deeds should serve as an example of what could have been done; as an indictment of what was not done; and as a moral torch in a world of oppression and darkness. These rescuers, nobles by deed but modest by character,taught us that even in the hell known as the Holocaust the individual had the choice and the capacity to behave humanely if she or he only cared and had the courage to act accordingly.

We survivors share a common goal with the current generation, and hopefully with all future generations: we do not want our past to be our children’s future.I really wanted to repeat it but you’ve interrupted it by the applause, but I will still repeat it because that’s the key to my existence. We survivors do not want our past to be our children’s future. I hope. I hope and believe this generation will build on mankind’s great traditions, tempered by understanding that these traditions must embrace pluralism and tolerance, decency and human rights for all people and must include opposition to anti-Semitism and to racism of any sort, it should be commonplace rather than exceptions.

Unfortunately, the passage of time makes it more and more apparent that there is an effort by the ideological successors of the perpetrators, as well as by the “deniers” and the ignorant, abetted by much of the media. I can repeat it: that it was abetted, it is abetted by much of the media, to “sanitize”, to “sanitize” the Shoah. They employ language to describe the Holocaust so that it appears less wicked and brutal; their efforts obscures the truth of what actually happened.

For example, it has become routine to use the word “lost” when referring to relatives and loved ones who were brutally murdered during the Holocaust. But the term “lost” does not accurately describe what happened. “Lost” refer to something that has been misplaced or has gone astray; 11,000,000 people, including 6,000,000 Jews and one and a half million Jewish children, were not lost or misplaced. These children were murdered, as were the generations that would have followed them.

Similarly, we often hear that millions “perished” during the Holocaust. Let me make clear – those who died in Auschwitz did not perish in the normal sense of the word …. they were viciously killed, murdered, burned in the crematoria.

For all intents and purposes, by not telling it as it actually was, clearly and without qualification or hedging, we offensively diminish our outrage that should exist, and in effect, we protect the perpetrators who performed these reprehensible deeds. By using sanitized words – by “cleaning up” what happened – we unknowingly help the deniers. We thereby posthumously lessen the atrocities of the perpetrators.

And yet, in view of the current participation and awareness of so many world leaders, there is visible sign of compassion and involvement instead of indifference. This is progress …. it is now up to the leaders of tomorrow. But there remains so much more to be done. We all must be involved and stay involved .... no one should ever be a spectator! I feel so strongly about this point that if I had the power, I would add an Eleventh Commandment to the universally accepted Ten Commandments: “You should never, never be a bystander.”

Thus, I hope against hope that there is a brighter future for mankind. After all, we live together on the same planet. Perhaps when we all finally realize that we are one people, we can then make sure that a tragedy like Auschwitz will never happen again to us or any other people.

I am going to end my remarks by quoting from the writings of Primo Levi, expressing his thought about Auschwitz –

From whatever country you
look at the ruins of the camp.

Think, and do all you can,
so your pilgrimage
be not in vain,
as was not in vain our death…

For you and your children,
the ashes of Auschwitz are
a warning.

Act so that the terrible fruit
of hatred,
whose traces are visible here,
will never grow again a seed
neither tomorrow, nor ever!

Thank you.