International Holocaust Remembrance Day
The former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau remains one of the most important symbols of Holocaust remembrance. Together with thousands of graves, monuments and memorial sites across the world, it is a testament to the atrocious crimes and a tribute to their victims.
The first transport arrived at Auschwitz on 14 June 1940. It was made up of Polish political prisoners. The decision to transfer them to Auschwitz was dictated by mass arrests of Poles and the resultant overcrowding of prisons in German-occupied Poland.
Two years later, the camp became one of the centres used for the implementation of the Endlösung der Judenfrage (the “final solution to the Jewish question”) – the Nazi plan to murder Jews who inhabited the areas occupied by Nazi Germany. The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was where 1–1.5m people were murdered, a million of them Jewish. Many were citizens of the Republic of Poland. Terror also reigned in hundreds of other concentration camps across Germany, allied Axis states and in areas occupied by them, in ghettos as well as during executions carried out on the streets of many European villages and towns. It is estimated that 6m Jews were killed during World War II. The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated on 27 January 1945 after the Red Army entered occupied Poland.
The death of millions of Jews will always be a shame for humankind. After the tragedy of such monstrous proportions, our faith in humanity is restored by the stories of men and women, Poles among them, who saved Jews from the Holocaust. Guided by their sense of shared human solidarity, the Polish Government-in-Exile and thousands of our fellow citizens were involved in helping Jews during the Second World War. It must be remembered that the punishment for doing so in German-occupied Poland was the death penalty. Poles account for the largest group among the Righteous Among the Nations, a title bestowed by Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. Operating under the auspices of the Polish Government-in-Exile, the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota” was the only state organization in occupied Europe established specifically to save Jews.
Also Polish diplomats were involved in saving Jews. Thanks to the operations of the so-called Ładoś Group, several hundred Jews from the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Austria, France, Slovakia and other European countries were saved from death in 1942–1943.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland