History of Holocaust Remembrance Day

History of Holocaust Remembrance DayHistory of Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, April 8, is Holocaust Remembrance Day in America. It is a part of Holocaust Days of Remembrance, established by the U.S. Congress as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. The U.S. Army remembers the six million Jews and millions of other victims of the Holocaust and honors the survivors’ resilience. It runs from the Sunday before Yom Hashoah through the following Sunday.

In Hebrew, Holocaust Remembrance Day is called Yom HaShoah. In Israel, it is a national holiday.

The date for Holocaust Remembrance Day corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew lunisolar calendar. Consequently, the date varies throughout April and May. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

I have visited and written about three of the most renowned among the almost 44,000 Concentration Camps established between 1933 and 1945 by the Nazi regime.


Holocaust in Poland


Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei “work makes free”


Auschwitz, even today, has a spirit of death and foreboding. Located in Poland, the country with the largest Jewish population at the time of WWII, it was the largest and the deadliest of the camps. Built in 1940, it was an extermination camp, or a “killing center,” the euphemism for mass murder. But it was started as a prison camp and slave-labor camp.

Between 1.1 and 1.5 million people died there of malnutrition and disease, but mostly from deadly Zyklon B gas (hydrogen cyanide). 90% were Jews.

At the height of its operation between 1943 and 44, six thousand Jews, on average, were gassed each day. Just walking through the gate made you feel surrounded by darkness.





In October 1941, work began on Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, located outside the nearby village of Brzezinka, just north of the Auschwitz camp, as you can see from the aerial photo below, labeled “B.”




Birkenau above Auschwitz, upper left

In the late winter of 1943, trains arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau regularly carrying Jews from virtually every German-occupied country of Europe—from as far north as Norway to the Greek island of Rhodes off the coast of Turkey in the south, from the French slopes of the Pyrenees in the west to the easternmost reaches of German-occupied Poland and the Baltic states.





Holocaust in Germany


Dachau gate

Dachau gate

Dachau was the first Concentration Camp. It was the prototype, the training center, originally established in March 1933 near Munich, Germany, soon after Hitler rose to power.

At first, Dachau held only political opponents, but more and more groups were imprisoned there over time. It became a forced labor camp, with workers taking the night shift at the local munitions factory. Thousands died at Dachau from starvation, maltreatment, and disease. I have written a 4-part series of articles on the background and liberation of Dachau, which you can find here.

I visited Dachau 50 years after my father had liberated the camp on April 29, 1945. WWII ended only a few weeks later. I tell his story in full here.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– The Life of Reason, by Professor George Santayana, Harvard, 1905


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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