by | Jan 27, 2019 | The Writer's Life | 18 comments

S. Lee Manning: Today, January 27, 2019, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today we remember that six million men, women, and children were murdered for the crime of being Jewish. Or some of us do. It’s become a little complicated.
I know I’ve written about the Holocaust before. I’ll probably write about it again. I know some people roll their eyes when Jewish people mention the Holocaust. But it’s important. It’s important because of the uniquely horrific nature of the Holocaust. It’s important because the survivors, in their 80s and 90s, are disappearing, people like my uncle Leon, whose sister and mother were gassed and who spent his teen years dragging bodies from gas chambers – and who died five years ago. It’s important because people are forgetting. 
Photograph from the Warsaw Ghetto.

A survey conducted over two weeks last February found that 22 percent of Millennials in the United States weren’t sure what the Holocaust was.  Forty-one percent thought that two million or fewer Jews were murdered. Two-thirds did not know what Auschwitz was.
Similar disturbing news from outside the US: a poll taken in September shows that nearly half of all Canadians cannot name a single concentration camp. Many do not know where the Holocaust happened or how many died. A third of all Europeans know little or nothing about the Holocaust.
How can so many not know anything about the Holocaust? How can so many not know the name of Auschwitz, where the Nazis perfected factory-style murder, hustling the sick, the old, women, children, from trains where they traveled for days without food or water – to pretend showers, where they were gassed to death, their bodies afterwards burned in vast ovens, ten thousand human beings a day? One million murdered at Auschwitz. Numerous other camps – where people were gassed, shot, hung, and burned. Then the squads of roving killers on the front lines in Russia. The goal – to exterminate every last person with at least one Jewish grandparent who lived in Europe. They succeeded in killing one third of all Jewish people in the world.
And the murder wouldn’t have stopped in Europe if the Nazis had won. A newly revealed book, from Hitler’s library – put on display in Canada for the first time last week, indicates the intent to commit genocide here as well. Compiled with the assistance of North American Nazi sympathizers, the book offered detailed statistics about the number and locations of Jewish people and Jewish organizations in the United States and Canada. The intent seemed clear: should Germany win the war in Europe and then take over Canada and the US, the Jews here would be exterminated.
And yet people are forgetting.
In the period after World War II, anti-Semitism declined, perhaps out of shame that the world had stood by while Jewish people were massacred. But with the forgetting of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is on the rise.
More than a quarter of respondents in Europe to the poll last September thought that Jews had too much influence in finance, and one in five thought Jews had too much power in media. Anti-Semitic acts jumped more than 69 percent in France in the first six months of  2018.
Anti-Semitic acts in the US in 2017 soared 57 percent, and in October 2018, eleven Jews were murdered in a synagogue. In Pittsburgh, even before the shooting, fifty anti-Semitic incidents were reported in the city. There are people who make anti-Jewish jokes, and parents who dress up their children as Nazis for Halloween. Recently, students in Minnesota issued Nazi themed invitations to a dance.  Someone painted swastikas on the side of a barn in Vermont. At Duke University in November, a swastika was painted across a mural honoring the Pittsburgh shooting victims. Swastikas were painted on a Jewish Community Center in Virginia and a synagogue in Indiana. In December, more than a dozen swastikas were painted on building near a trail near the University of Central Florida.
So, today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is important that we remember the six million, and not just because it is a terrible historical fact. Remember because prejudice is rising against Jewish people. Remember what happened when people scapegoated a minority and unleashed hatred. Remember, because genocide can – and does – happen again whenever we forget what horrors humans are capable of inflicting when a group of people is demonized.
And, because six million is so large a number that it is almost abstract, remember that the number six million is made up of individuals with lives and loves, hopes and dreams.  They were individuals, not numbers, people like:
Rudolph Acohen from Amsterdam: He liked to listen to music, play tennis and bike, and was murdered at the age of twenty.
Bertha Adler: arrested in her hiding place in Czechoslovakia along with her family, and sent to Auschwitz where she was gassed two days later. She was fifteen years old.
Ziegmond Adler: taken from her home in Belgium and gassed at Auschwitz. She was seven years old.
Leon Anderman: a doctor, who died at Auschwitz.
Heinrich Bauer: sixty-four, who could have escaped Germany but refused to leave without his daughter and granddaughter, Freya. Freya was smuggled out with the aid of a children’s aid society and survived the war. Heinrich, his wife, and his daughter were murdered at Auschwitz.
Golda Bancic: traveled to France from Romania and supported the fight of the Spanish Republicans against fascism. After the German invasion, she joined the Resistance. She was captured and beheaded on her 32ndbirthday.
Mina Beker: Lithuania, born in 1902. She was a widow, mother of three, and a teacher. She was gassed at Stuffhof on the Baltic coast sometime in late 1944 or early 1945.
I selected just a few stories – taken from the files of the Unites States Holocaust museum. Multiply those stories – by the millions – six million – and you have the real horror of the genocide.
So this International Holocaust Remembrance Day – remember. Remember what Auschwitz was. Remember that six million died. Remember that behind that vast number of murdered people are millions of individuals with their own stories – heartbreaking stories. Go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website,, or Vad Yashem, the World Holocaust Museum in Israel, Yad Vashem is sponsoring the IRemember Wall – which matches people with the image of a Holocaust victim – and it can be posted on your Facebook page. Post the story of someone you knew who survived– or the story of someone is memorialized on one of the above sites.
They were people. Individuals. Mothers and fathers. Husbands and wives. Widows, widowers, and those who never married. Doctors, teachers, shop keepers, housewives, soldiers, journalists, scientists, musicians, students. Children. They were young, and they were old, and they were somewhere in the middle. They were religious and not religious. They had their good points, and they had their faults – like all of us. And they were murdered.
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  1. Karna Bodman

    What an incredible post about the horrors of that time period – and of the obvious continuing anguish of families such as yours. You are so right to remind everyone of this terrible history – along with the hope that prejudice of any kind can be curtailed – here and around the world.

  2. S. Lee Manning

    Thank you, Karna. It's up to all of us to ensure that these memories are not lost.

  3. Kathi K

    It's yet another horror that so many people are forgetting this or are in denial because of prejudice. <3

  4. Lisa Black

    This is a fabulous post. You’re so right—it seems like memories fade faster today, and though I understand that to children it may seem as distant as the Roman Empire, certain events are worth great effort to maintain in our collective consciousness.

  5. Jenny

    Beautifully written, Mom.

  6. Robin Burcell

    One thing that comes to mind on reading your post is the quote: "without understanding history, we are doomed to repeat it." So, yes, it's important to remember.

  7. Robin Burcell

    (And so very hard to believe that there are actually people who don't believe it's true. My father was a child in occupied Holland–and couldn't talk about the war at all due to his childhood experiences, and my uncle (his older brother), had to hide from the Nazis, sleeping beneath floorboards with a dresser over him. I can only imagine how horrifying it must have been.)

  8. Jamie Freveletti

    Such a terrible horror, and it is important to remember so that history is not repeated.

  9. Gayle Lynds

    It's incredibly important to never forget this barbaric period in our world's history, and that it really wasn't all that long ago. It's shocking how it has receded. I'm grateful this day has been aside to mark it officially, so we can remember together.

  10. Ramona

    Thank you for this moving tribute and for reminding us that 6 million individuals were murdered and never got to live out their lives. When the Holocaust Museum in D.C. opened, I took my young sons, who were about 8 (twins). At the end of the experience, when you find out if the person whose life you were following in the booklet survived, one son had been given the name of someone who died, and the other son had the name of a survivor. There were many solemn moments but that made an impression,too,the randomness of survival.

  11. S. Lee. Manning

    I took the stories above from the cards they hand out at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D. C. They are all on line. Yes, the individual stories hit hard.

  12. Terry

    It isn't so much that they are forgetting as that they never knew in the first place. My father fought in World War II, but in the Pacific, so the European war was not as much of a focus. In, school, in Texas, our history lessons usually got bogged down around the Civil War, with about month to cover "the rest" of American history. I had seen some concentration camp photos, but didn't understand at all the extent of what happened. What I'm saying is that it isn't necessarily the fault of Millennials that they don't know, but a failure of the education system. Ironically, my husband's uncle is one of the last of the Band of Brothers. He was a paratrooper who aided in the liberation of the camps–and he's Jewish.

  13. Norma Huss

    With the schools seemingly ignoring much history, perhaps it's up to writers, like you ladies, who keep the stories alive in your books. Every time I read historical fiction, one of my favorite parts is the end, where the author tells the true history underlying her fiction.

  14. Chris Goff

    This is a powerful tribute. Unfortunately with the passing of time, memories fade, dulling the pain. As a child of a veteran who entered France via Omaha Beach, WWII held a fascination for me. We were required to read "Diary of Anne Frank" in school. When my girlfriend and I backpacked Europe at age 19, one of the first places we went was Dachau. I believe it was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in 1933 and intended to hold political prisoners. It is located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory, about 16 km northwest of Munich, Germany. Opened by Heinrich Himmler, its purpose was enlarged to include forced labor, and eventually, the imprisonment of Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and foreign nationals from countries invaded by Germany. Some records say that 3.5 million Germans were held in camps like this, with 77,000 killed for resistance activities. During our visit, we were ushered into one of the gas chambers, where the doors clanged shut behind us. We all stood and stared at each other under the shower heads. I can't remember a time I was more frightened. What stuck with me most, however, was the museum that detailed the medical experiments performed on prisoners. I also remember being astounded to learn that German locals, when forced by the Allies to go to the camps and help bury the dead, seemed shocked. Most claimed not to know anything about what went on there. I found that hard to believe. Perhaps the most telling thing was the feeling of the land. Standing on the asphalt paths, left an impression of sadness. But, to a person, stepping onto the graveled plots and hard dirt where the barracks stood opened a flood of tears. I urge everyone who has a chance to visit one of the concentration camps or one of the Holocaust museums. Take your children and grandchildren. It's something we should never forget.

  15. S. Lee Manning

    I would agree with you that it's probably a failure of the educational system – but also, there's the passage of time. To someone born in the 1990s, it's ancient history and not relevant. Bravo for your husband's uncle. It truly was the greatest generation.

  16. S. Lee Manning

    What a harrowing experience. I don't think I could have stood there as the door clanged shut. And I agree with you. I find it hard to believe that the locals didn't know what was happening. In the Spenser Tracy movie, Trial at Nuremberg, a Bert Lancaster delivers a speech – saying:“Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau? Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried off to their extermination? Were we deaf? Dumb? Blind? Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.”